Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Jailhouse Rocked

Facing legal challenges and energized citizen opposition, Spokane County says it won’t push new jail scheme to a vote this year.

In a clear victory for the No New Jail citizens group and other critics of the plan, Spokane County has announced that it will not be asking voters to approve a $190 million-plus bond issue this year so it can move forward with a new county jail.
Through the lens of KREM-TV, the lineup at today's press conference.
The announcement was made this afternoon at a press conference where Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich joined County Commissioners Al French, Todd Mielke, and Mark Richard.
The officials say they haven’t given up on the plan to build a new jail, but are backing off the plan to move forward this year.
“If we have a legal challenge,” Knezovich explained,  “that could tie us up for years [and] could ultimately cost the citizens millions of dollars.”
The prospect of a legal challenge had been laid out in some detail on March 17th by Center for Justice lawyer Rick Eichstaedt, who was speaking on behalf of the Peace & Justice Action League of Spokane (PJALS). Appearing before the County’s Planning Commission, Eichstaedt drilled into the County Commissioners’ decision last fall the declare an “emergency” to move forward with the new jail proposal in order to acquire a 429-acre tract of rural land near the Medical Lake interchange on Interstate-90. The emergency declaration was clearly an effort to avoid compliance with the standard requirements of the state’s Growth Management Act (GMA) and the county’s own comprehensive plan. The site is currently zoned rural traditional and will have to be to be reclassified as light industrial to host the new jail. This will require the land being added to the county’s urban growth area, a step that typically has to be backed up with extensive evidence showing a need for a UGA expansion and documentation of careful planning to deal with traffic, utilities and environmental impacts.
Eichstaedt’s legal critique of the plan received strong backing from City of Medical Lake City Administrator Dan Ross.
“We all adhere to these ground rules,” Ross told the Planning Commission on the 17th. “Even when the City of Medical Lake goes through its growth management updates, we have to show proof that there’s a need. And there’s no proof that there’s a need for four hundred twenty-nine acres zoned light industrial. Absolutely none.”
The Neighborhood Alliance of Spokane County and Futurewise (a statewide organization that advocates for compliance with the state’s Growth Management Act) endorsed Eichstaedt’s testimony.
“The struggle to change our orientation to fund ‘smart justice’ alternatives to the incarceration-only approach to creating community safety is not over at all,” said PJALS Director Liz Moore this afternoon. “But this is a very significant victory!”


No New Jail press release response to yesterday's decision of the County Commissioners

The No New Jail Coalition appreciates yesterday’s decision of the Spokane County Commissioners to cancel the jail ballot issue for the rest of this year in order to “do their due diligence” before deciding on a new course of action. We hope that “due diligence” includes a closer examination of priorities that has to date resulted in jail space over health care, jobs, education and all of those services which improve the quality of our communities and minmizes the need for jail space in the first place.

Further in this direction, we believe Spokane County criminal justice needs function as an integrated system with the dedicated cooperation of the County Prosecutor, Steve Trucker as well as the Superior Court judges and Public Defender. Attempting to put the horse back ahead of the cart, we believe these people as well as our County Commissioners and Sheriff can and should create a criminal justice system that is both cost effective and efficient in addressing the issues of public safety and rehabilitation through increased
dedicated funding for alternative programs.

We trust that the Commissioners will not again ignore the will of the people  by contracting behind closed doors with a private firm to build and then lease facilities back to the County, all without the bother of any vote or input from voters and taxpayers.

Spokane County jail bond measure on hold

Full article from John Craig of the Spokesman Review, March 30, 2011, with no input whatsoever solicited from the No New Jail Coalition:

There will be no Spokane County jail bond measure this year and less chance of a legal challenge when a vote is scheduled, probably next year.
County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to abandon a controversial declaration of emergency that was necessary for a vote this year.
Critics argued that no genuine emergency justified sooner-than-usual consideration of land-use changes to allow a Geiger Corrections Center replacement near the Medical Lake interchange of Interstate 90.
Commissioners defended the declaration but said they wanted to prevent litigation that could tie up the jail project for years.
Declaring an emergency enabled the Planning Commission to begin consideration of a proposal to add 429 acres to an urban growth area – allowing sewer service for the 40-acre jail site – and a necessary zone change from “rural traditional” to “light industrial.”
Following the normal timetable for a 10-year review of urban growth areas, commissioners expect the land-use issues to be resolved by the end of the year.
The decision to delay presentation of a bond measure also was based on the realization that more work was needed to gain voter acceptance.
“We feel confident that we can reduce the cost even further,” Commissioner Mark Richard said.
The current $199.5 million plan calls for a 752-bed Geiger replacement, a new 192-bed community corrections center and renovation of the Spokane County Jail back to its original 462 beds – for a total of 1,406 beds.
Commissioner Todd Mielke said each of the elements is “critical,” but that it may be necessary to break the project into phases to gain voter approval.
He hoped further analysis, including an independent review commissioners plan to commission, may help identify a strategy that balances needs and political reality.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich joined commissioners in announcing the delay with a news conference and tour of the Geiger Corrections Center. Knezovich said the delay is worrisome because the county’s main jail is getting more dangerous inmates who can’t be sent to Geiger to relieve crowding.
Sheriff’s Lt. Joanne Blake, assistant Geiger commander, led reporters down the long, narrow hallways of the converted World War II Army barracks. Lack of access and room to maneuver make it difficult to help corrections officers or inmates under assault, Blake said.
She pointed out the exposed fluorescent light fixtures that inmates use to light illicit cigarettes with sparks or to electrify their metal bunks for cooking cheese sandwiches.
Glass windows in every room are a constant challenge, Blake said. “We’ve tried every screen there is to keep them from breaking out the windows.”
Tampering with exposed plumbing in shared bathrooms is a frequent source of flooding, and recent weather-related flooding knocked out security cameras and left exterior walkways “pitch black” for days, Blake said.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Check The Inlander's recent coverage of the jail

The Inlander has a recent piece on the county jail through the land use context making the case the siting itself is illegal because of the Urban Growth Area. Nick Deshais interviews Center For Justice attorney Rick Eichstaedt.

“We all had questions, and those questions need to be answered,” says the commission’s vice chair and local developer, Pete Rayner. “The questions that came up just in the dialogue there, issues raised by the Center for Justice: Is what we’re doing legal? … Everybody read [Eichstaedt’s] letter and said, ‘We need to know answers to these things.’”

Read the full story HERE and check the Center For Justice's objections on the siting of the new jail HERE.