Spokane County’s jail consultant continues to be locked in until early next year.
David Bennett, a Utah-based consultant, who has been working with county corrections personnel to overhaul and streamline the county’s public safety policies and programs, was given the informal go-ahead Tuesday by county commissioners to keep his advisory status with the county until February 2012. The matter will have to be officially approved by the commissioners at an upcoming meeting.
A new Spokane County corrections facility has been proposed to be built on land near the Medical Lake/Interstate 90 interchange and a bond vote is tentatively scheduled for this fall. The current plan is to renovate the existing 25-year-old jail behind the Spokane County Courthouse and construct a 192-bed community corrections center nearby.
A new campus-style corrections facility, to be constructed in phases, would replace Geiger Corrections Center, which is slated to be closed. The county is set to lose its lease on the over 70-year-old structure in 2013.
While an exact number for a bond vote has yet to be decided upon, it’s estimated it will cost about $199.5 million for new construction, which is actually down from initial estimates of $265 million. There will be, however, ongoing operating costs.
Bennett has been working with the county to change a longstanding “catch and release” philosophy in which low-risk offenders have been allowed to skirt jail time. Under his proposed community corrections system, those inmates would be allowed to be enrolled into drug-treatment and/or work-release programs while more serious offenders would serve out their sentences in the higher-security jail setting.
For that reason, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich told commissioners he supported the retention of Bennett for the time being.
“We are working toward building a much smaller project than was originally started,” the sheriff said. “That would not be the case without David Bennett. If we don’t have his guidance, we’re not going to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Commissioner Mark Richard said he was all for extending Bennett’s contract, but he hoped that the county would soon be in the position to hire its own “criminal justice coordinator” that would carry on his work once the contract was over.
“I think at some point we have to consider weaning off of David Bennett,” Richard said. “I think he’d agree with that.”
Board Chairman Al French said is concerned the message about the need for a new corrections center isn’t getting out and that he would like to see a greater emphasis on the public information program.
“There’s a lack of knowledge that we need to confront as we move forward,” he said. “We need a voice that is credible and has answers.”