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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

At Gonzaga Law School, speakers call out for criminal justice reform

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, left, laughs with Rev. Walter Kendricks, a Spokane pastor at a meeting of the Peaceful Communities Roundtable Thursday, Oct. 19, 2107. Collins, from Georgia, accompanied Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers to the meeting at Gonzaga University to talk about legislation he is proposing and to listen to what is going on in Spokane in criminal justice reforms. Several pastors from predominantly black churches attended. Collins is also a former pastor and Air Force chaplain. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Speaking in rapid tones before an audience at the Gonzaga Law School Thursday, Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., laid out the ills he believes are plaguing the criminal justice system.

Collins was one of several speakers featured at the Peaceful Communities Roundtable forum. Their subject: criminal justice reform.

“Of people incarcerated, 35-50 percent are either dealing with addiction or mental health issues,” Collins said. “(Incarceration) is a bad way to treat addiction, and this is a terrible way to treat mental health.”

With 95 percent of current inmates slated to be released, Collins said, his goal is to make them productive members once they’re back in society, and to make sure they have the resources they need once they’ve served their time.

Mass incarceration, he said, isn’t helping, and is costing states a lot of money.

“Jails do not need to be a place where we keep people we’re mad at,” Collins said. “It needs to be a place for people we’re scared of.”

Other presenters at the forum, moderated by former NAACP Spokane Chapter president Phil Tyler, included Judge Mary Logan; Dr. Jacquie van Wormerof Spokane Regional Criminal Justice; Carmen Pacheco of Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council; Hadley Morrow, associate director of Community Engagement-Better Health Together; and others.

In front of a diverse audience that featured students, law enforcement, former criminals and even bail bondsmen, each speaker shared sentiments and data of how the criminal justice system can be improved.

Pacheco recounted the story of how she grew up as a teenage prostitute, struggled with addiction, was in and out of jail for a variety of crimes and lost custody of her five children.

“Changing the system can have an impact on generations of children,” she said. “We need to show what the criminal looks like and what the criminal can become.”

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., who invited Collins and was present for the forum, said she also subscribes to idea of redemption among convicts who have served their time.

“It’s really about focusing on the individual. And what does that individual need?” McMorris Rodgers asked. “Focus on the alternative type of sentencing. The kind with someone walking alongside you and helping keep you accountable, I think that’s what we really need.”