The movement towards a smarter criminal justice system in Spokane is gaining momentum and has some worthy accomplishments to report! The Smart Justice Campaign coalition, convened by Greater Spokane Progress and endorsed by PJALS, the Center for Justice, and many other groups, co-sponsored the Smart Justice Symposium in November. About 200 elected officials, judges, police officers, attorneys, probation officers, ex-offenders, and concerned citizens gathered as experts and stakeholders discussed proven alternatives to jail that reduce crime, save taxpayer dollars and produce better outcomes for people re-entering the community. At the end of the day, anonymous polling revealed that a vast majority of the audience supported reallocating resources to support the programs discussed. Police Chief Straub helped closed the event by promising to work collaboratively with the public to heal, change and move forward towards a better Spokane.
For the coalition, part of making Spokane better is eliminating the grim fact that our criminal justice system disproportionately impacts people of color, people with disabilities, and people with low incomes. To educate and promote a dialogue surrounding this issue, the Campaign hosted the opening night of “The House I Live In,” a powerful documentary that links these disparities with drug war policies. After the film, Reverend Happy Watkins led an honest, but hopeful, discussion about institutional racism in Spokane and what we can do to address it.
The coalition has actively sought input from experts, criminal justice stakeholders, and the people most impacted by the system in order to create recommendations for change. At the core of these policy recommendations is the request that the city and county make all future policy decisions regarding criminal justice through a Smart Justice Lens – This means focusing on the person, not the crime, matching individuals with appropriate alternatives to incarceration that reduce recidivism and reduce costs, and monitoring such programs to ensure effectiveness. In addition, this lens includes paying particular attention to racial, economic, and other disparities within the system. The coalition hopes to share its recommendations with the three-member Regional Criminal Justice Commission recently appointed by the city and county to examine possible reforms.
While we have successfully gotten “Smart Justice” into Spokane’s vocabulary, it is time to push for commitment, a reallocation of resources, and implementation. To reach these next goals, we will need more participation and engagement from people like you. To find out how to get involved and for more information on Smart Justice alternatives, contact PJALS or go to the Smart Justice website – www.smartjusticespokane.org.