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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Carmen Pacheco Jones: Proposal to dissolve Justice Council is a power grab

By Carmen Pacheco Jones Spokane Regional Law & Justice Council

I strongly oppose the proposed dissolution of the Spokane Regional Law & Justice Council, to be replaced by a smaller Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, reducing the number of voices of elected officials, civil servants and community members from 23 to 13.

This proposal, promoted by County Prosecutor Larry Haskell, would also eliminate the Racial Equity Committee, to be replaced by a Community Participation Committee that is both smaller and seriously limits the voices of community members disproportionately impacted by a criminal justice system that historically has been aligned against input from these communities.

Important and urgent work needs to be done to end racial disparities in arrests, jailing and prosecution. This proposal takes time and attention away from this critical work! We need to invest in communities, not jail. Polling shows community support for funding solutions like affordable housing, mental health and substance use treatment, job training and after-school programs to reduce the jail population.

As a community representative elected to the SRLJC for a five-year term in October 2017, I, the sole Black person on the council, am beholden to the community I was appointed to serve.

How can the council address the pervasive inequities that exist within our justice system from the point of entry through reintegration without diverse voices and representation? Black, Indigenous and non-English speakers continue to be subject to harsher penalties, larger bail amounts and exclusion to therapeutic programs.

The Spokane Regional Law & Justice Council was created in response to the need to address justice system reform. The creation of the 2014 Blueprint for Reform gave us a guiding light in which a process could begin to enact reform recommendations. The pushback came from members of the council who refused to implement reforms or created/supported alternatives that continued to perpetuate inequities. The language that was spoken at council tables was transparency, accountability and authenticity, but what was supported behind closed doors was anything but. Prosecutor Haskell opposed the language developed by the Justice Task Force to address racism. Now his proposal does not include achieving racial equity in the mission statement of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, whereas this goal is a part of the mission statement of the SRLJC.

Nationally, we are in a time of a great racial reckoning and the correction of systemic inequities. Locally, because of organized community pressure, we have made progress toward that goal. The SRLJC began with no community representatives, but obtained four seats, including my own, to bring the voice of the impacted communities to the table. But now, in this post-Trump era, our county leaders are balking and resisting this progress. The specific name, Racial Equity, has been stripped from the committee intended to focus on exactly that.

Prior to COVID, a heavy push was made to silence community voices who opposed the creation of a larger jail. The community persisted in holding our elected/appointed officials accountable. We stood in support of the funding that was coming in through the council’s engagement with the Safety Justice Challenge through MacArthur Foundation grant funding, yet we failed time and time again to see the changes we were led to believe were coming.

Throughout the time of COVID, I remained active in pressing equity within the justice system; however, it became more and more difficult to track meetings that were scheduled outside of the view of the community. It was at such a meeting that our very own prosecutor sought the ear of the Spokane County Board of Commissioners and continued his pursuit to dissolve SRLJC; fortunately a member of the Racial Equity Committee and Spokane Community Against Racism attended and debriefed with the community.

I have spent years, countless time and energy fighting systemic racism only to see it is alive and well thriving in dark spaces and corners of the halls of justice. I owe it to my community, to my children and my grandchildren to continue the fight. We will prevail.

This proposal seeks to consolidate power in the hands of a few who insulate themselves from accountability and community solutions, who diminish the processes of democracy by silencing the voices of those directly impacted.