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.