Spokane Journal of Business



Spokane-area voters should invest in criminal justice

Measure 1 is a big ask, but voters countywide should support the law-enforcement funding proposal that will appear on November’s general-election ballot.

Every local law enforcement agency stands to benefit from the 0.2% increase in sales tax that would kick into effect in April 2024 and sunset in 2054. It’s projected to generate a total of $1.7 billion over 30 years to go toward new and expanded jail facilities, criminal justice, public safety, and behavioral health purposes.

There are legitimate reasons to support such an investment. The jail is overcrowded, and the booking area is insufficient. Currently, 14% of offenders are booked and released because there isn’t anywhere to put them. At the same time, the minimum-security Geiger facility on the West Plains is underused because of its deteriorating conditions. It will need to be replaced at a different location—not on Spokane Airport’s land, as it’s situated presently.

Also, diversion and recidivism programs aren’t funded to the levels needed to be effective. Those who question the value of incarceration should be able to get behind funding programs that would work toward helping people stay out of jail once released.

The funding clearly is needed, and a sales-tax increase is the correct mechanism. That way, visitors from outside of the region will be contributing directly to the cost of public safety and criminal justice in ways they wouldn’t with an increase in property taxes, for example.

Voter support, however, should be followed immediately by action from elected leaders at all levels to ensure the money will be spent as intended on the best possible solutions to the shortcomings in the present law-enforcement system.

Specifically, county leaders should revisit the location of the envisioned jail expansion and look at options for building somewhere other than the current proposed site adjacent to the city’s core. The current proposal calls for expanding the jail and related services just north of the current county jail, which is located at 1100 W. Mallon, near the county courthouse in Spokane’s North Bank neighborhood, with about $300 million in new facilities.

Sheriff John Nowels and others argue that officers typically would spend less time transporting arrested individuals to a jail near the centrally located courthouse than they would to a more remote site on, for example, the West Plains.

But the North Bank neighborhood has changed significantly since the County last studied potential jail sites in 2012. Back then, it didn’t have the Podium, One Spokane Stadium, or the planned Nodo mixed-used development nearby. Even the nearby Kendall Yards neighborhood was only an outline of what it is today.

The North Bank site still might be the best option, but if we, as a community, are going to make such a massive financial commitment to detention services over three decades, the county should revisit all options for potential sites.

In all, 60% of the money would go to the county, and 40% would be distributed to cities within the county, based on population. It would be up to each city to determine how to use those funds. The intention is to put more officers on the streets and to expand programs to help vulnerable populations, ultimately reducing recidivism. We implore elected leaders in those cities to be deliberate and transparent when deciding how to spend those funds.

A jail and law enforcement are a tougher sell than parks, public entertainment venues, schools, and even bus systems, but it’s clear this measure has been a long time coming. Let’s pass Measure 1 and build up the public safety infrastructure to function as it should.