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Tuesday, July 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Spokane

Spokane County Jail director John McGrath will step down; officials may launch nationwide search for replacement

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 9, 2019, 8:24 p.m.

Jail administrator John McGrath walks by a 1920s mixing bowl in use in the Geiger Corrections Center kitchen in 2011. Now the director of Spokane County Detention Services, McGrath announced he will step down in a letter to jail staff on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Jail administrator John McGrath walks by a 1920s mixing bowl in use in the Geiger Corrections Center kitchen in 2011. Now the director of Spokane County Detention Services, McGrath announced he will step down in a letter to jail staff on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
By Kip Hill and Chad Sokol The Spokesman-Review

John McGrath, the director of Spokane County Detention Services, announced he will step down from the position in a letter to jail staff Wednesday morning.

McGrath wrote that he informed the county commissioners of his decision last week; his last day on the job will be Feb. 18.

“Leaving Detention Services was a difficult decision for me because I value so much the opportunity to work on behalf of Spokane County,” McGrath wrote.

Commissioners Josh Kerns and Mary Kuney said McGrath’s resignation is a voluntary, personal decision.

“In the coming weeks, we will be addressing a plan for the interim and long-term strategy for filling the director (of detention services) position,” Kuney said in a text message.

Kerns said that process could involve a nationwide search for a new jail chief.

McGrath, who didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment Wednesday, began his career in corrections with the San Diego Sheriff’s Department in 1994 and later worked at the Kootenai County Jail in Coeur d’Alene.

In 2006, he was hired as the assistant director of Spokane County’s Geiger Corrections Center on the West Plains, and the following year he became the facility’s director.

In 2009, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich named McGrath the detention services commander, in charge of both Geiger and the downtown Spokane County Jail.

In 2013, both facilities were moved out of the purview of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, and McGrath began reporting directly to the county commissioners.

McGrath has overseen the jail facilities amid slow-moving efforts to reduce overcrowding and implement other reforms in the local justice system.

“There should be no doubt that working in corrections, even under the best of circumstances, is complex, dangerous and challenging,” he wrote in his resignation letter.

Under McGrath’s watch, the Detention Services department hired a medical contractor to address a shortage of jail nurses and made policy changes after a spate of inmate deaths last year.

“Despite the difficulties and adversities we have faced, together we have strived for the building of a harmonious and stable system of justice,” he wrote. “I wish you all success as you move forward.”

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