Spokane Municipal Court is rebranding its Probation Department.
The department will now be known as the “Community Justice Services Department,” and “probation” will now be referred to as “supervision.”
The name change is a reflection of the changing mission of the court, say city leaders.
It comes amid continuing criminal justice reform efforts and as the court prepares to launch the one-year pilot of a “supervised release” program for defendants awaiting trial.
“We’re trying to present a kinder and more approachable face to the people we want to serve,” explained City Attorney Michael Ormsby.
The department’s title change was approved via an amendment to city law unanimously approved by the Spokane City Council on Monday.
Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs lauded the city for being a “leader regionally in taking a different approach to holding people accountable and returning people to our communities.”
People are caught up in the criminal justice system for different reasons, including substance abuse, mental health issues or economic problems, Beggs argued. The city, he added, is trying to meet each person where they are while still holding them “accountable to the community.”
“In some ways these are just words, but they reflect, really, the cultural transformation we are undergoing,” Beggs said. “We still have a long way to go, actually, but we’re going in the right direction.”
The court is transitioning from a law enforcement-like mindset to a therapeutic model, according to Municipal Court leaders.
In addition to changing its title, the probation department is also working to change the job titles of “Probation Officers” and “Probation Specialist” to “Community Justice Counselors” and “Community Justice Specialists,” a process that will require Civil Service approval.
The court plans to start a supervised release program in the coming weeks, Municipal Court Administrative Commissioner Howard Delaney explained to the City Council last week.
The supervised pretrial release program will serve as a middle ground between holding someone in jail or sending them back into the community without oversight while they await trial.
The aim is to be both fairer to defendants and connect them with social services, but also be more cost-effective, as holding people in jail costs taxpayers money. The program’s supporters believe that keeping a closer watch on defendants before trial will help ensure they return to court.
The supervised release program is funded with a portion of the $700,000 grant awarded to the region by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation earlier this year.
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