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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

If Spokane County voters want a new jail, it’ll probably be downtown

The Spokane County Jail is pictured.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

Details remain scarce, but some information on Spokane County’s plan to build a new jail has begun to emerge.

For the first time Monday, the Spokane County commissioners discussed the initial steps of what could be a yearslong process to build a new detention facility.

Whether that detention facility ever becomes a reality is up to voters.

In December, Spokane County commissioners Josh Kerns and Al French decided to put a 0.2% sales tax measure on the Nov. 7 general election ballot.

If voters approve it, the tax would generate more than $1 billion over 30 years, pay for a new jail and fund a host of criminal justice, public safety and behavioral health programs. Spokane County would receive 60% of the funds, while the remaining 40% would be distributed among the county’s municipalities.

Precisely how the millions would be spent is a mystery, and not entirely up to the county commissioners.

But in a presentation Monday, special deputy prosecuting attorney Jim Emacio outlined the first steps the county will need to take to build a new jail.

Emacio’s presentation answered several key questions. For instance, it now appears likely the new jail would be located downtown, directly behind the county’s existing one. If voters approve the 0.2% sales tax, Spokane County will need to apply for a conditional use permit with the city of Spokane and receive approval to site the facility there.

Mike Sparber, Spokane County’s senior director of law and justice, said the county would likely construct two buildings, both on the county campus. 

One would serve as a detached addition to the existing jail. The other would be a community corrections center and give inmates access to a wide range of resources, such as addiction treatment, mental health counseling and educational courses.

With those two new detention facilities, Spokane County would be able to close Geiger Corrections Center in Airway Heights and halve the population of the overcrowded Spokane County Jail.

Emacio told the commissioners they will soon need to hire a consultant, who in turn will prepare a conditional use permit application.

That conditional use permit is essential, Sparber said, in order to begin planning the jail and community corrections center in more detail.

“I have to know that we can site it in that location,” he told the commissioners.

Sparber said he hopes to have conceptual drawings of the jail and community corrections center in March. He also said he’s working to determine how many beds are needed.

Spokane County CEO Scott Simmons said a full design wouldn’t happen until after the election.

French, a Republican who campaigned on building a new jail, said he believes the facility is desperately needed. The county jail has been dangerously overcrowded for years and a lack of capacity will only become a greater problem over time, he said.

“We’re clearly running out of space at the inn,” French said. “What do we do? What’s the alternative?”

Commissioner Amber Waldref, a newly elected Democrat, said she believes hiring a consultant and applying for a conditional use permit would be premature.

“I have a lot of questions on how we can move forward without any of these details,” Waldref said. “I’m not supporting the one that’s on the ballot right now as it is unless we get more detail.”