Jail Ballot Measure Language is Prejudicial, Community Groups Say

Spokane County voters are being asked to approve a sales tax increase this fall. But ten community organizations are bringing a legal challenge because they say the ballot language is prejudicial and does not give an accurate picture to voters.

The ballot language from County Commissioners and County Attorney Larry Haskell’s office claims the money will be used for “criminal justice, public safety, and behavioral health purposes.” However, the organizations point to many public statements from County Commissioners publicly pledging to use the money to fund two new jail buildings in Spokane County.

Spokane Community Against Racism (SCAR), Asians for Collective Liberation in Spokane (ACL Spokane), The Way to Justice, Health and Justice Recovery Alliance (HJRA), Tenants Union of Washington State (TU), Compassionate Addiction TreatmentRevive Center For Returning Citizens/ I Did The Time, Spokane NAACP and Peace and Justice Action League (PJALS) have filed a legal challenge calling for ballot language that meets the standard of “a true and impartial description” as required in state law.

The legal challenge will be heard by Judge Tony Hazel on Friday August 25 at 1:30 pm in the Spokane County Courthouse room 408. Representatives of the organizations bringing the legal challenge will be present. For those unable to physically attend, the hearing will be streamed via Zoom at https://us06web.zoom.us/j/9695476394.

“County Commissioners have no budget or plan for programs or services, and with the hundreds of millions it will take to build the planned jail expansion, it’s unlikely any money will be available for anything but incarceration. The incarceration system is built on systemic racism and white supremacy and it must not be allowed to expand. It is imperative that people know exactly what they are voting for and that we prioritize healing and social support over incarceration!” said Ryann Louie from Asians for Collective Liberation in Spokane.

When ballots arrive in October, Spokane County voters will be asked to approve a 0.2% sales tax increase to fund two new jail buildings and other unspecified programs. Over the next 30 years, $1.7 billion will be raised by this sales tax. 40% will go to the individual cities in Spokane County, and the rest will go directly to the county. Spokane County Criminal Justice Administrator Mike Sparber has presented plans for two new jail buildings behind the existing jail, increasing jail cells to more than 1500 by the end of the project. County Commissioners Waldref and Jordan asked for a delay on the ballot measure so that plans for programs and services could be specified, but Commissioners Kerns, Kuney, and French voted against the change.

“The massive jail expansion that Commissioners Kerns, Kuney, and French are pushing for will suck hundreds of millions of dollars away from other needs. Every consultant, committee, task force, and community process for the last decade has told the county to jail fewer people and make our community safer through proven strategies for recovery, healing, and support rather than creating more jail cells,” said Natasha Hill from NLH Law Offices. “That’s why it’s so important for voters to get impartial information about this measure.”

“Our community deserves better than a jail expansion that perpetuates cycles of incarceration without addressing the root issues,” stated Angel Tomeo Sam of Yoyot Sp’q’n’i. “We need investments in community programs and services that support people on a path toward reintegration and success.”