Spokane County, WA

Change in Jail Population 30%

Action Areas Data Analysis Pretrial Services Racial Disparities

Last Updated

Background

When joining the Safety and Justice Challenge, Spokane County, in eastern Washington State, set two major goals: reduce the number of people in its jails and meaningfully address the racial inequities that persist throughout the justice system. Stakeholders recognized over-reliance on incarceration, especially at the pretrial stage, destabilizes people, families, and communities.

At the time, the county jail’s average daily population had increased significantly since 2000, operating at “critical status” almost daily due to overcrowding. Growing rates of pretrial detention, high rates of failure-to-appear, and increasing lengths of stay contributed. Operating the jail in critical status used more than a quarter of the county’s budget. Between May 2018 and April 2019, approximately 70% of the jail population was pretrial status and 17% of people booked into jail were there because of warrants related to missing their court dates.

The misuse and overuse of the jail takes an especially heavy toll on people of color. In 2019, jail incarceration rates were 13 times higher for Black residents than white residents and six times higher for Native Americans. Black, Native American, and Latinx/Hispanic people also have longer lengths of stay in jail.

Strategies

Since joining the Safety and Justice Challenge, Spokane County has advanced strategies to shift the criminal justice system so that it is more efficient, just, and transparent.

01

COMMUNITY INVESTMENT AND ENGAGEMENT

Initially, Spokane County invested in system-based interventions like implementing a pretrial risk assessment tool. Now, the region has transitioned to investing in the power of individuals and community-based supports, such as providing cell phones to low-income individuals facing charges, offering free transportation to court-related appointments, and supporting community-based solutions through microgrants.

02

REDUCING FAILURE-TO-APPEAR RATES

In 2019, the County Public Defender’s Office launched Uptrust, a text-based court date reminder system. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the county created a free, publicly available Criminal Justice Information Hotline to help community members get information about their cases, so they do not inadvertently miss a court or legal obligation. Hotline staff also make reminder phone calls for people with District Court cases.

03

IMPROVED DATA ANALYSIS

To ensure all reforms in the justice system, including those to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities, were based on rigorous data, the county employed a full-time data analyst and launched a public jail data dashboard. One goal of the dashboard is to enhance transparency about the justice system within the community. The county plans to integrate additional data from other branches of the legal system to the dashboard.

04

DIVERSION TO MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES

The jail runs a program in which mental health staff identify incarcerated defendants who could benefit from community-based treatment, and when all parties agree, connect them to services. Similarly, a social worker in the Office of Pretrial Services reviews people in jail on bond who could benefit from treatment and collaborates with the court to reduce or eliminate bond to ensure release so they can engage in services.

05

ADDRESSING RACIAL DISPARITIES

More than 325 government actors and community members attended implicit bias trainings. Five separate agencies participated in half-day racial equity trainings conducted by JustLead Washington. The county is also developing an equity impact assessment that criminal justice system actors can use during planning phases that will help mitigate unintended inequities.

Results

Since the start of the Safety and Justice Challenge, Spokane County has been able to reduce its jail population significantly.

Quartery ADP for Spokane County (2016-2021)

29.7% from baseline

More Results

As of January 2020, 489 people were released from jail to engage in community-based mental health services. In addition, during the COVID-19 pandemic, staff supporting the Criminal Justice Information Hotline made over 20,000 calls during the first year of the Hotline to share reminders for people with District Court cases.

Through community partnerships and input, a series of explainer videos about different parts of the criminal legal system, and new strategies to spur community investment, the County continues to build upon its efforts for meaningful community engagement, particularly with those directly impacted by the system.

Remaining Challenges

Despite progress, Spokane County is focused on addressing its remaining challenges in its local justice system.

The county’s failure to appear rate, while lower, continues to drive jail incarceration. And while new data provides more information on ethnic and racial disparities in the jail system, these inequities still must be addressed.

Last, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on every aspect of the county’s local justice system and continues to uniquely affect those incarcerated in local jails. The foundation of collaborative, data-driven strategies, including the necessary structures and collaboration from local stakeholders that are in place to support these strategies, has set the county up well to respond to the pandemic swiftly and effectively. Looking ahead to a post-pandemic future, Spokane County is looking at how to make these policies sustainable.

Lead Agency

Spokane County Office of Law and Justice

Contact Information

Maggie Yates

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