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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Jennifer Thomas: Measure 1 important for safety now and in the future

Jennifer Thomas

By Jennifer Thomas

Universal agreement exists that our Spokane County community corrections facility is in desperate need of structural improvements. Staff and inmates alike deserve a facility that provides safety and dignity for all. Additionally, local news reports have highlighted the increasing “red light” status conditions that cause significant stalling to the booking process that is a tremendous source of frustration for law enforcement, those who have been arrested and residents making calls for help.

Those opposed to incarceration agree that our county jail is in need of renovation and that appropriate alternatives – such as drug court, veterans court, community court and programs that reduce recidivism – need funding.

State law requires that, if passed, Measure 1 will contribute to the community correctional facilities and justice system programs. The cost of “yes” is one penny on a $5 hamburger. The cost of “no” is continued stress on the justice system and growing expense to the facility improvements that must be made.

The embedded benefits of Measure 1 include the following:

• Building an energy-efficient and sustainable community correction facility that will save taxpayers money in heating, cooling and costly temporary projects through industry standard long-term innovative design.

• Providing spaces for those incarcerated in a variety of settings appropriate for them as determined by the justice system and their partners in progress.

• Keeping our families and loved ones safe from dangerous repeat offenders.

As is available on the ballot measure and in the voters guide, 40% of the resources collected if the measure passes will be dedicated by population to cities and towns throughout Spokane County. This is good public policy. For example, the justice system needs in Deer Park or Mead may be very different than those in Spangle. Critics have stated that this is a lack of specifics and therefore a problem. Proponents believe quite the opposite. Local control is key to local accountability.

Measure 1 creates a funding stream to fortify safety measures both inside and outside of correctional facilities, and it will fund needed programs and services as prioritized by each local jurisdiction. There will be no sudden infusion of taxes or resources.

The measure allows local officials to adapt to the needs of their communities as populations, technology and policies change. It would be irresponsible to demand a one-size-fits-all policy now that may not make sense in 20 years. This is not the lack of a plan. This is respect for local citizens to require accountability from your local elected officials.

Let’s consider for a moment the numerous stories related to the benefit of consequences and accountability. In many cases accountability via jail is the very thing needed to help people caught in a cycle of destructive choices or addiction finally turn their lives around. We can all agree that a reformed law breaker that becomes a contributing member of society is of utmost importance. But we can’t fail to recognize that in each of the success stories of reform accountability and consequences are key components. Without consequences for people who chose to break the law, steal, damage property, or hurt others, we will spiral into a chaotic society where anything goes.

On the flip side, though accountability and consequences are necessary, sometimes people are just in a really tough season and need an opportunity for a fresh start. They need support to start over without judgment or criticism. That’s where programs and services play a key role. But every situation is not the same and each jurisdiction needs to be able to have a flexible funding stream that can support their communities’ objectives.

If this weren’t a heated election cycle my guess is that we would find more to agree on about Measure 1 than to disagree. We agree we want our families protected and that something needs to change in our jail system sooner rather than later. Again, the cost of yes is 0.2%. The cost of no is continued stress on the justice system and growing expense to the facility improvements that must be made.

The bottom line is if safety is your No. 1 priority, vote yes on Measure 1.

Jennifer Thomas, of Spokane, is co-chair of the Jobs for Justice committee, a group supporting Measure 1.