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Tuesday, April 7, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane County won’t jail people for violating probation, parole – unless DOC agrees to new contract

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 24, 2019

The Spokane County Jail is seen in June 2018. Following an urgent request from jail officials, Spokane County’s district and superior courts have prepared lists of inmates who might be released to alleviate crowding and prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading in the county’s detention facilities. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokane County Jail is seen in June 2018. Following an urgent request from jail officials, Spokane County’s district and superior courts have prepared lists of inmates who might be released to alleviate crowding and prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading in the county’s detention facilities. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane County Jail officials say they will stop jailing people for probation and parole violations unless the state Department of Corrections agrees to increase its reimbursements to the county.

The change would take effect after the DOC’s contract with the county ends on Dec. 31. The change would not apply to anyone arrested on new charges, said Mike Sparber, director of Spokane County Detention Services.

Sparber said 20 to 30 people are booked into the jail each day on DOC warrants for probation or parole violations. Some of those cases also involve new charges.

The DOC currently pays the county $89 to hold an inmate for one day, though the total cost of a day in the downtown jail averages about $134.

County officials have been asking the DOC to pay more, primarily to cover the cost of treating inmates for drug and alcohol withdrawal, Sparber said.

“We started in May, and we have been negotiating back and forth,” he said. “I anticipate that we will continue to negotiate and come up with some type of equitable agreement. That’s our intent, anyway.”

Sparber said he spoke Monday with DOC Secretary Stephen Sinclair and expected to hear back from the department after Christmas.

In an email, DOC spokeswoman Janelle Guthrie said the agency “has received notification that the Spokane County Jail will no longer accept individuals who have violated the terms of their community supervision.”

“We are continuing to work on a mutually agreeable solution and are hoping for an extension while we continue this process,” Guthrie said. “Both organizations have a vested interest in community safety.”

The DOC matter highlights two long-standing problems at the Spokane County Jail. For one, the jail is severely overcrowded, meaning there are few available beds for people arrested by the DOC and other law enforcement agencies. And, people booked into jail routinely suffer opioid or alcohol withdrawal, which can be deadly without medical treatment.

Jail nurses are reluctant to have inmates transported to a state prison if they are still experiencing withdrawal symptoms, Sparber said. So they keep some inmates at the jail to complete a full seven-day regimen of withdrawal treatment or connect them with a medication-assisted treatment program.

“If they come in and they’re in that condition, we kind of feel that it’s our responsibility and the most humane thing to do,” Sparber said. “And that, in turn, increases the (jail) population because their length of stay increases.”

Local officials have been debating whether to build a new jail, with some arguing it is necessary for public safety. Others have called on the county to reduce its reliance on incarceration, especially for those charged with low-level misdemeanors.

Jail officials also are acquiring two body scanners and one mail scanner to detect drugs being smuggled into the downtown jail. Multiple overdoses and at least two deaths at the facility have been linked to contraband drugs in recent years.

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