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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Therapy, cost-cutting efforts showing results at county jail

Sheriff: City, county save millions

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich says incarceration changes have helped save the city of Spokane nearly $2 million in the past two years.
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich says incarceration changes have helped save the city of Spokane nearly $2 million in the past two years.

Spokane County Jail costs are falling by millions of dollars as work programs and therapy have helped people avoid lockup in recent years.

The savings include $1 million for the city of Spokane in 2012.

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich announced the savings on Monday. He said the county’s jail expenses also were about $1 million under the budgeted amount. “We ended up pretty good,” the sheriff said.

In addition to last year’s savings, the sheriff said, the city saved $700,000 in jail costs in 2011.

Several programs cited for achieving the savings are part of the county’s array of treatment options at Geiger Corrections Center, including drug and alcohol therapy, moral recognition therapy, a program for re-entering the community, work crews and work release. Other programs are being introduced in the county jail adjacent to the Courthouse.

Knezovich said the number of people being re-arrested for new crimes has been declining as a result.

Even with the savings, a large majority of inmates held by the county are considered a high risk to reoffend, Knezovich said.

Brian Coddington, spokesman for the city, said the city is committed to working with the county to reduce costs, but Spokane is also implementing changes of its own that are helping cut costs.

Spokane city officials in 2011 threatened to send 50 or more inmates to Benton County in an effort to save money in the face of a budget crisis.

After the sheriff and Spokane County commissioners committed to cutting jail costs, the city backed off on the threat.

The savings come as the city and county have launched an in-depth look at criminal justice reform through a three-member Spokane Regional Criminal Justice Commission.

Knezovich said reducing jail costs is consistent with Smart Justice models being considered by the commission.

The commission is currently in a fact-finding mode, but it plans to take public testimony in August and September before issuing its recommendations in November.  

Spokane Mayor David Condon has said he expects the commission’s recommendations will be implemented and will not become a report that gathers dust on a shelf.

County Commissioner Todd Mielke said the challenge will be to get people within the various parts of the criminal justice system to cooperate with changes.

The county for several years has been working on reducing criminal justice costs, in part by contracting with a consultant expert. The commissioners earlier this year voted to take over administrative control of detention services to put commissioners in a better position to manage reforms and cut costs.

Knezovich said he hopes the savings will ease ongoing budget problems at City Hall and cement the relationship between the city and county for providing detention services.

He credited jail staff for implementing the programs that are saving money.

The city budgeted $5 million for jail expenses this year. The city is responsible for offenders arrested on misdemeanor charges or warrants inside the city. Benton County was offering a reduced price for housing those Spokane inmates. Public defenders, however, objected to the plan because the distance would make it more difficult to handle their cases.

Mielke said the jail system had 1,200 inmates six years ago, but that number fell to about 770 in 2011. Currently, the jail system has been holding about 900 inmates.

The county spends 70 percent of its $140 million general fund on criminal justice, including law enforcement, courts, prosecutors, defenders, probation services, clerks and detention.

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