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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sirens & Gavels

Sheriff dismisses private jail options

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich expressed doubt today that the City of Spokane could save any money by hiring a private company to run a municipal lockup.

“We looked at privatization,” Knezovich said, adding the department had talked with a Montana company while researching options for a regional jail that will serve the Spokane area’s future needs. “We never could get that to pencil out.”

Knezovich’s comments came in response to questions asked during a meeting with Spokane-area journalists. City officials announced earlier this month they’re exploring cheaper alternatives to the county jail, which is operated by the Sheriff’s Department, and that its options could include hiring a private company to house low-risk inmates.

Among other things, private jails often want to limit the risk they face in caring for medically needy inmates, but someone has to bear that cost, Knezovich said.

Several cities in Western Washington that operated their own municipal jails have concluded it would be cheaper to form regional partnerships and share costs, which Knezovich said is similar to the concept that jail planners have been pursuing here. In Eastern Washington there's just three jurisdictions large enough to form a core partnership: The City of Spokane, City of Spokane Valley and Spokane County.

The Sheriff's Department is trying to build support for a regional jail complex that could cost as much as $265 million, which would need to be approved by voters.

David Wasson oversees coverage of politics and state and local government and assists with editing on the City Desk.

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