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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sirens & Gavels

Property carousel ‘explodes’ at Spokane County Jail

The most heavy-duty dry cleaning carousel in Spokane County exploded last month.

A Spokane County Jail staff member was standing next to the 30-year-old device, used to store clothing and other personal items of booked prisoners in the bowels of the aging facility, when it shattered over the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday, Detention Services Director John McGrath told county commissioners Monday. The worker was unharmed, but McGrath said maintenance workers' fixes are short-term solutions.

"The whole thing needs to come down, and we need to examine the motor and the chains," McGrath said.

When a person is booked into jail, their personal items are placed in hanging bags that are hung in a numbered spot on the chain. The carousel feeds down into a lower level, where bags hang at roughly eye level.

Sgt. Darren Lehman, an administrative sergeant with county detention services, said the system was designed in the 1980s when prisoners entered the jail with fewer possessions than they do now.

"They have cellphones, boots, all kinds of things," Lehman said.

The main stressor on the system is the portion of the carousel that lifts item bags from the basement into a reception room, where property is returned to departing inmates, McGrath said. He's meeting with Bob Wrigley, the county's chief financial officer, later this week to make a pitch for repair money. A full overhaul would cost $250,000, McGrath said, but just repairing the motor or patching the chain would cost significantly less.

McGrath and jail staff showed commissioners the cell blocks, medical area and kitchen, where a new dishwasher is badly needed. That will likely cost the county around $200,000, according to Marshall Farnell, the county's chief executive officer.

Commissioners were also provided with a point-in-time snapshot of the jail's population using its new software system. Of the 936 people incarcerated Monday, 791 were men, 109 were black and more than 60 percent faced felony charges. Here's the data that county commissioners were provided:

Population snapshot of Spokane County Jail 2/2/2015

A subcommittee of the recently formed Spokane County Law and Justice Council has been tasked with assessing the area's detention services needs for the next 25 years. County Commissioner Shelly O'Quinn, who co-chairs the subcommittee with Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Jack Driscoll, said Monday the group is looking at the jail's renovation needs as well as ways to increase capacity. The jail operated at critical or emergency status, which means more prisoners than its 620-person operating capacity, 64-percent of the time in 2014, according to data provided by McGrath.

"We're operating on borrowed time," said Lt. Mike Sparber, who is also part of the facilities subcommittee.

Kip Hill
Kip Hill joined The Spokesman-Review in 2013. He currently is a reporter for the City Desk, covering the marijuana industry, local politics and breaking news. He previously hosted the newspaper's podcast.

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