Spokane County Commissioners have approved spending $50,000 to study whether putting a few hundred inmates in temporary structures is feasible.
One option they are considering is reinforced tents, which have been used by the military and other jails. Such structures can be made of metal or a reinforced fabric, and are estimated to cost between $6 million and $16 million.
Spokane County Jail Director Mike Sparber asked the county commissioners for $75,000 to hire Integrus Architecture to look into the feasibility of the structures last week and, in a following meeting, county commissioners said they would approve up to $50,000 in funding to research the project.
Sparber said the temporary shelters could be a way for him to place the jail population under direct supervision, which would allow inmates to spend most of the day out of their cells. That would improve conditions for both inmates and jail employees, he said.
Currently, inmates spend about 22 and a half hours a day in their cells.
Sparber said he did not know how many inmates would need to move into temporary structures to move to a direct-supervision model.
The Spokane County Jail and Geiger Corrections Center have had issues with overcrowding and jail deaths for years. County officials, law enforcement, advocates and community members have debated whether Spokane County needs to focus its attention on a new, larger jail or reduce its inmate population to the point where a larger facility is not needed.
The effort to reform the criminal justice system and reduce mass incarceration has happened in the region’s Justice Task Force committee, which includes elected officials, advocates and community members.
The committee has recommended several ways to reduce the population and improve conditions, such as expanding diversion programs, increasing services to help those who have issues showing up to court and reviewing bail. Moving people to temporary structures is not among those recommendations.
Last week, all three commissioners said the project had potential. On Tuesday, Commissioner Al French said temporary shelters could be used while the county constructs a new jail.
French said he hopes the results from the study will be ready by April, which is when he anticipates commissioners will make a decision on what size jail and what related programs will be on the ballot either this November or sometime next year.
County Commissioner Josh Kerns said the county is still doing its due diligence on the temporary shelters. But if the consultant they have hired shows that the project is a viable option, he anticipates the shelters could have multiple uses.
They could house inmates so the county could start direct supervision sooner, or they could house inmates while the county constructs a new jail.
If a new jail is complete or the county doesn’t need the space for as many inmates any longer, the structures could be used as storage or as a garage for county vehicles.
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