By Dom Felix, Intern
The Spokane County Commissioners and Mayor Condon appointed a joint City-County Regional Criminal Justice Commission (CJC) in November 2012, charged with recommending reforms to our criminal justice system. The Commission’s final recommendations will provide the “to do list” for City and County elected officials to implement criminal justice reform. Their recommendations were released in a 60 page draft November 1st 2013.
On Nov. 6th the CJC held a hearing to get input from the community. There were nearly 150 community members at the hearing. Smart Justice supporters and PJALS members turned out to voice their opinions, give feedback on the draft, and share stories of how the criminal justice system has impacted their lives. There were plenty of positive reviews regarding the draft, but the most powerful testimonies were those that included personal involvement with a system that fails the community it is meant to serve.
Angela Webster disclosed that half of her immediate family members had been incarcerated over the last 16 years, and that the devastation was compounded by social stigmas associated with incarceration. Angela’s sister, best friend and confidant, was having troubles; she was drinking, abusing drugs, in trouble with the law, and had even attempted suicide. After being convicted of a violent offense, her sister received a prison sentence. The combination of knowing how the system works on the inside from her time working in the California Sheriff’s Office and her family’s continuing involvement with a system that was obviously broken led Angela to realize that she needed to affect systemic change. Angela is involved with the Smart Justice campaign to help make that change happen. Angela is passionate about evidence based, culturally appropriate program that empower participants, such as re-entry programs to help felons return to society more smoothly. She feels that programs intended for nonviolent criminals are necessary, but if those are the only programs, people convicted of violence are left without options.
Several other PJALS members also testified: Kerri Rodkey, Bart Haggin, Bill Moore, Dom Felix, Cly Evans, and Dr. Nancy Street. The overall feeling was that the CJC draft was well written, effective, and would move the criminal justice system in Spokane in the right direction.