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Criminal Justice Commission’s “landmark” recommendations to require political courage, focus, and public involvement

Smart Justice Campaign logoThe 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, on January 10, 2014. The reforms envisioned in the Blueprint will require an unprecedented push for structural and cultural change says the Smart Justice Spokane Campaign.

In the press conference that followed the private meeting, both Mayor Condon and Commissioner Mielke praised the Commission for its work. Smart Justice Spokane Campaign spokesperson Mary Lou Johnson, also states, “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 Mielke 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.”

From comments made at the press conference, it appears the City and County will create this Regional Justice Commission. “The Smart Justice Campaign urges our elected officials to immediately form that Regional Justice Commission and use the timeline in the Blueprint to implement the recommended reforms to create smart justice in Spokane,” said Julie Schaffer, of the Center for Justice.

The Commission also recommended public involvement in the reform efforts. “The Smart Justice Campaign urges the City and County to include members of the public on the planning team as well as other structures and bodies that are created to implement the recommended reforms,” said Schaffer. “We firmly believe that all meetings must be announced and open, so that the public can support the reform efforts and be appraised of the progress. This is not a process that should occur behind closed doors.”

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.

Reverend Happy Watkins, Pastor at the New Hope Baptist Church and member of the Campaign coalition notes, “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.”

“We agree very much on the problem,” says Schaffer. “Spokane County continues to use an outdated system of retribution that incarcerates too many non-violent people at a great cost to taxpayers and local families, which unjustly targets communities of color, those of us living in poverty, and our neighbors with mental illness, addiction and disabilities.

Steering Committee member and local community activist, Dylan Dressler agrees, pointing to the disproportionate number of American Indians/Alaskan Natives in the Spokane County Jail. “Drug and alcohol abuse and mental health issues in this population are deeply rooted in historical trauma. I support the Smart Justice Campaign’s ideas of alternatives to incarceration.”

The Campaign, which has been pushing for evidence-based alternatives to incarceration and support services that hold people accountable for their behavior and provide opportunities for change, was particularly pleased with the Blueprint’s statement that: “Research has repeatedly demonstrated that jail and intensive supervision do not reduce recidivism, and shifting away from an over-reliance on jail and towards community-based alternatives is critical to move us into a 21st century justice model.” James McDevitt, a member of the Criminal Justice Commission, reiterated at the press conference that “jail is not always the answer.”

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,” says Liz Moore of Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane. “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.”

For more information go to: www.smartjusticespokane.org

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