BRIEF: Local leaders say they are committed to forming regional criminal justice system

smartjustice_logo_digitalThe Spokane Regional Criminal Justice Commission’s “Blueprint for Reform” was presented in a private meeting to Spokane Mayor Condon, County Commissioner Mielke and Spokane City Council President Stuckart earlier this month. The reforms envisioned in the Blueprint will require an unprecedented push for structural and cultural change says the Smart Justice Spokane Campaign.

Smart Justice Spokane Campaign spokesperson Mary Lou Johnson said in a press release, “We have to express our deep gratitude for the Commission’s landmark report. It’s hard to understate just how enlightened ‘A Blueprint for Reform’ is for improving our criminal justice system and getting the most out of public dollars. But as the Commission itself acknowledges, these reforms can’t occur without large doses of political courage, a longsighted approach, and persisting resolve to ensure the changes actually occur.”

The mayor and commissioner stated they are committed to the formation of a regional criminal justice system and reported that both entities are creating a team to begin reviewing the commission’s recommendations and planning implementation strategies.

“Noteworthy in the conclusion of the Commission’s Blueprint was the observation that an independent governing structure should be formed, known as the Regional Justice Commission [and that it must have authority to act”, said Johnson.  “We strongly agree with the Blueprint’s conclusion that “[t]he failure of leadership at the city and county, to create this process through the granting of authority to the RJC will doom us to the status quo.”

The Commission urges elected officials and the general public to get involved in the reform efforts. 

The Smart Justice Campaign, which has worked in tandem with the Commission over the past year, is a broad, diverse coalition of 30 organizations, community members, and criminal justice professionals who have come together to reform the unfair criminal justice system.

The Rev. Happy Watkins, of New Hope Baptist Church and member of the Campaign coalition noted in a press release, “Instead of warehousing members of our community in jail, who pose no danger to our neighborhoods, we are urging our elected officials to spend our tax dollars on proven programs that are fiscally responsible, reduce recidivism, and create a thriving and healthy community.”

Among the key recommendations of the Blueprint that the Smart Justice Campaign supports are:

  • Moving to an “evidence-based criminal justice system;”
  • Creating a Disproportionate Minority Contact Workgroup to “ensure that all criminal justice departments make a commitment to achieving racial equity in our systems, and to building culturally appropriate programs and support services for offenders”;
  • Creating an independent governing body to coordinate reforms and to issue system-wide performance measures (or “report cards”);
  • Reforming the system to be offender centered rather than offense centered; and
  • Delaying the building of a new jail or increasing jail capacity until after alternatives and new practices are implemented and evaluated.

“We are excited about all of the recommendations and hope our elected leaders and criminal justice stakeholders, including members of the public, can work together to make them a reality,” said Liz Moore of Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, in a press release.  “We have the opportunity to be the leader in our region.  Through these reforms we can reduce recidivism, eliminate racial and economic disparities and create better outcomes for our community and for victims, offenders and their families. Our coalition is committed to making sure these reforms are implemented.”

About Tracy Simmons

Tracy Simmons is an award winning journalist specializing in religion reporting, digital entrepreneurship and social journalism. In her 15 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti.
Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut. Currently she serves as the executive director of SpokaneFAVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Wash. She is also a Scholarly Assistant Professor at Washington State University.

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