Two-dozen local organizations join arms to work for more treatment, fewer jail sentences, and added public safety value for taxpayers.
Declaring that it’s time to bring Spokane County’s criminal justice system into the 21st Century, a broad coalition of Spokane-area citizen organizations is today announcing its commitment to work for major reforms in how local law enforcement agencies and courts handle non-violent offenders.
The coalition’s new campaign, “Smart Justice Spokane,” is a concerted effort to push reforms that have been proven to reduce crime rates while easing the pressure on already crowded jails, like the one in Spokane County.
“The aim of the Smart Justice campaign is to bring an end to the dependence upon jail for non-violent, low level offenders,” says Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane. “We can all agree on the need to put those convicted of serious and violent crimes in jail. The question is: what’s the best way to respond to non-violent offenders? We think the research is clear that, for many non-violent offenders, their problems with the law could have been avoided in the first place with earlier intervention and proper treatment.”
Two dozen local organizations and several prominent community leaders — ranging from pastors, to mental health advocates and retired judges—have signed on in support of the Smart Justice Campaign.
The launch of the campaign comes on the day that Douglas Marlowe, a national expert on the advantages of treatment over incarceration, will speak at the Bing Crosby Theater about how reforms can improve public safety, strengthen communities, and save tax dollars. Marlowe, a lawyer and clinical psychologist who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine, has been sought by local and federal officials to assist with training in Spokane on reentry courts and alternative sentencing. He will deliver his talk–“A Criminal Justice System for Spokane That Works”–Thursday evening, September 13 at 6:30 at The Bing Thursday evening.
“In our system, jail has affected, but not rehabilitated people. I’ve known people who have gone through the correctional system, but they didn’t come out any better, they didn’t come out rehabilitated. In fact they came out even angrier than when they went in. And here’s a system, if we get it in place, a Smart Justice system, that will make a change.”–Rev. Percy (Happy) Watkins.
“One irony of where we’re at now in Spokane,” says Rick Eichstaedt with the Center for Justice, “is that we actually have a number of local examples of how alternatives to jail can work. And, yet, we’re still not investing in them to anywhere near their level of potential.”
Among those echoing this message is retired Spokane District Court Judge Richard “Rick” White: “After twenty-one years on the bench I learned that the criminal justice system is rapidly changing and we are learning that there is great value in terms of rehabilitation from the new therapeutic courts – DUI courts, drug courts, mental health court. We have also learned that there is great value from accelerated processing in many of the criminal cases – we call that the Same Justice Sooner principle. I look forward to working with our community and the Smart Justice campaign to continue the dialogue to discuss and to discover continued improvements to the criminal justice process in our county.”
Likewise, retired Spokane Superior Court Judge Jim Murphy–who pioneered the county’s drug court in 1996– emphasizes the effectiveness of “alternative sentencing” from his experience. “Drug Court was our first attempt at creative alternatives to prosecution,” Judge Murphy says, and the reliance on treatment rather than jail quickly led to a substantial cost savings for tax payers. “We had a recidivism [repeat offend] rate of under ten percent after five years of operation,” Judge Murphy notes. “We were the eleventh drug court in the United States and how there are 2,500 in operation. Spokane County and City courts have since instituted DUI, mental health and veterans courts using the same philosophy. Smart Justice works. It deserves the full support of our community.”
The consequences of the other route–jail–are plainly visible to other community leaders, like legendary Spokane pastor Percy “Happy” Watkins of New Hope Baptist Church.
“The focus is to make a change,” says Rev. Watkins. “In our system, jail has affected, but not rehabilitated people. I’ve known people who have gone through the correctional system, but they didn’t come out any better, they didn’t come out rehabilitated. In fact they came out even angrier than when they went in. And here’s a system, if we get it in place, a Smart Justice system, that will make a change.”
The Smart Justice Campaign Coalition
ACLU/Washington · All Saints Lutheran Church · Center for Justice · Community Building Foundation · CORD (Coalition of Responsible Disabled) · Friends of Compassion · Greater Spokane Progress · KYRS/Thin Air Community Radio · League of Women Voters Spokane Area · NAMI Spokane – National Alliance on Mental Illness · Neighborhood Alliance of Spokane · Northwest Fair Housing Alliance · November Coalition ·Odyssey World International Education Services · Opengate · Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane · SEIU Healthcare 775 NW ·Spokane Branch Unit 1137 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People · Spokane Humanist Focus · Spokane Tribe of Indians · Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane · Unemployment Law Project · University Legal Assistance, Gonzaga Law School · Washington Community Action Network · Washington Education Association, Eastern Washington