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New CAFO Draft Fails to Protect Water Quality

Although there are few if any CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) in the Spokane River Watershed, this is an extremely important issue when it comes to our statewide water quality!

Cow pic

The issue:

There are over 400 industrial dairy operations that run over 200,000 dairy cows throughout Washington state. These industrial dairy operations generate over 20 million pounds of untreated manure per day! This manure ends up in unlined lagoons, causing the groundwater in these areas to become seriously contaminated. When this contamination occurs it worsens our overall water quality resulting in unsafe drinking water and damage to nearby river ecosystems. Many farmers try to dispose of manure by over-applying manure onto their fields, however the excess then runs off into our rivers and creeks destroying aquatic life.

Unfortunately due to the strong influence big Agriculture seems to be having on the decision making of the Washington State Department of Ecology, the new draft permit is not sufficient in handling this issue.

The permit will inevitably fail to protect our waterways, this is why we need your help!

How you can help:

Help protect these fragile ecosystems by sending your comments to the Washington Department of Ecology.

In order to fully protect the public, and local wildlife from the dangerous pollutants currently in our waterways, Ecology must incorporate the following provisions in its final permit:

  • Mandatory groundwater monitoring
  • Science-based manure application requirements and restrictions
  • Science-based riparian (stream side vegetation) buffers for salmon-bearing stream
  • Implementation of best technology for CAFO operations such as synthetically-lined manure lagoons and other known and reasonably available technologies to eliminate discharges to surface and groundwater

For more information on the issue visit the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance.

Public hearings will be held on Tuesday July 26, 2016 at 6:00 pm at Whatcom Community College and Thursday July 28, 2016 at 6:00 pm at the Yakima Convention Center. Ecology will also be holding a webinar on the draft permit on Wednesday July 27 at 2:00 pm.

Please send your comments to Governor Inslee as well so he understands the publics’ concern in regards to this issue.

Retreat Yourself

Retreat Yourself

by Haley B. Brown (Center for Justice Legal Intern/Women Leading With Purpose Retreat Attendee ‘16)

As I drove up to Coeur D’Alene with two of my classmates for a weekend away from law school, I started to panic. We all started to panic.

“Did you get all of your reading done for next week?”

“I already feel behind not spending my weekend at the library”

“How will I be able to get ahead of my reading schedule now?”

“I’m too busy to be here.”

But, as we forced ourselves to chat about things outside the realm of law school over sour gummy candy, with the view of CDA Lake fast approaching, that panic began to melt away.

The Women Leading with Purpose Retreat is an annual event run through the Center for Justice for female law students at Gonzaga University School of Law. The Retreat provides those that decide to attend a weekend away from law school on the beautiful CDA lake, little to no cell service, time for personal reflection, relationship building, and much more.

I had just completed my first semester of law school at Gonzaga when I attended the retreat, and had already convinced myself that it was going to be a lonely, miserable three years. All of my free-time that I once filled with hobbies that enriched my life seemed to vanish. I rarely saw my husband and all of my girlfriends were now states away. (Not to mention, on top of figuring out my first semester of law school I was in the midst of trying to learn how to drive my husband’s car, a manual 5-speed, after we sold my vehicle to save money for school. This was like the least amount of fun I have ever had in my entire life. . . but, I digress.) Law school was all consuming; it consumed all of my time, all of my thoughts and all of my conversations. I didn’t feel like myself and was experiencing more self-doubt that I ever had before. To top it all off, I was convinced I was the only one of my classmates who was experiencing this. Most people seemed like they had it all figured out.

The Retreat taught me that law school doesn’t have to be lonely or miserable. In fact, I learned that I was surrounded by strong, supportive female classmates who had experiences just like mine that will enrich my law school experience and provide me a shoulder to lean on, cry on, or stand on if necessary. But, had it not been for the retreat, I am not sure I would have had the chance (or the courage), to get to know the 11 classmates I spent my weekend with on the deep personal level that I did. Until that time, most conversations I had with these women and all of my other classmates were school related and surface level. I left that weekend more committed to developing deep, personal relationships in school, work and in my personal life.

Additionally, being at the retreat afforded me the time to look inward, reflect and morph back into the person that I was before coming to law school. I left feeling more like myself with a renewed sense of purpose, a louder voice, and a reminder of why I chose to come to law school in the first place. I also left committed to learning how to bake bread, something I had been continually putting off with criminal law reading.

Like all good things, the retreat had to come to an end. As my two classmates and I headed back to the reading, outlines, flashcards, and significant others that awaited our return, not one of us felt panicked. Instead, we felt and continue to feel empowered and driven to be women leading with purpose.

Rise for Justice results & more!

We are almost speechless! The Center for Justice hosted its very first Rise for Justice breakfast on May 19th at the Davenport Grand Hotel. The event results are above and beyond what we could have hoped for! Here is quick recap of the proceedings. The event began at 7:30 am with a welcome and thank you from Matt Santangelo. Matt is the Executive Director for Spokane Hoopfest Association and we were very grateful for his willingness to act as our Master of Ceremonies for this event. With 435 guests in attendance, the room was full of passionate community members who care about social justice issues in Spokane. Several elected officials and judges were also in attendance as well, each of whom were recognized during Matt’s introduction. Following the introduction, our Executive Director, Rick Eichstaedt, was introduced and then recognized the Board of Directors and table hosts for their efforts, concluding with an introduction of our notable keynote speaker, Justice Mary I. Yu. She spoke about the need for civil legal aid in Washington and the importance of organizations like the Center as key players in the community. She referred to Spokane as a “beacon of hope” for the rest of the state, and touched on the importance of the work being done by the center here in Spokane. Following her speech, Matt came back up to thank Justice Yu and then to introduce a video produced by Hamilton Studio that gave a wonderful synopsis of the work done at the Center. The 12 minute video featured attorneys and program staff members and demonstrated all of the ways the Center interacts in the community. Following the video, Sharon Smith took the stage and gave a compelling and heartfelt call to action. Once Sharon had finished and instructed table hosts on how to collect donations, Matt gave another thank you to all of the attendees and concluded the event with an inspirational quote from Dr. Cornell West: “Justice is what LOVE looks like in public.”

The event was an overwhelming success, with a net profit of approximately $43,500, exceeding the amount we had anticipated and the goal previously set. The 54 table hosts all did a fantastic job and filled their tables with generous and interested community members!

This event would not have been possible without our hard working event committee that consisted of Elsa Distelhorst, Patty Gates, Kim Harmson, Jake Krummel, and Lorna St. John. A special thank you as well to our table sponsors, Mary Alberts, Micheal Chappell, Elsa Distelhorst, Foster Pepper PLLC,  Kim and Jeff Harmson, Kalispel Tribe and Northern Quest Resort & Casino, Merriman Wealth Management, Neighborhood Alliance of Spokane County, Numerica Credit Union, and Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund. We would like to send a special shout out to our Media Partner, Don Hamilton and Lorna St. John from Hamilton Studio and our video host, Jake Krummel of Numerica, for the impressive video! We are also grateful to Robert Lee, Della Higgins, Bill Keizer, Dr. Darin Neven and Ben Stuckart for their openness to celebrate and share our work with the community. Finally, a huge thank you to our friend and sponsor, Sharon Smith, for leading the vital community call to action.

In case you missed it…check out the video below!

 

 

Spokane Riverkeeper Announces “River Partners”

Spokane Riverkeeper is dedicated to protecting and restoring the health of the Spokane River Watershed. The Spokane Riverkeeper River Partners Program celebrates the value added to our community and economy by the Spokane River. Quality of life and the health of the economy and local businesses are related to the health of the environment. The River Partners Program provides an opportunity for businesses to become involved with the Riverkeeper program and increases the community awareness of the integral role of the Spokane River to our city. The program helps broaden and diversify the support base for Spokane Riverkeeper and creates an attitude of community stewardship towards the Spokane River.

Businesses who join the Spokane Riverkeeper River Partners Program sign a pledge agreeing to the following statements:

  • A healthy, swimmable and fishable Spokane River is good for our local community and our economic environment.
  • Accessing and recreating on the river is an important part of the cultural and economic life of our community.
  • Respecting other river users and holding professional standards with respect to health and safety of those who live, play and work on the river is a priority.
  • Adopting water friendly business practices is an essential part of conducting business.
  • We are committed to keeping out river clean and safe, respecting the contributions a healthy river makes to our community.
  • We will connect the customers we serve with the health and beauty of our river and conduct business in a manner that demonstrates respect for the Spokane River.

In addition to signing this pledge, program members are connected with other Riverkeeper partners and receive media exposure for their businesses at Riverkeeper events as well as regular Riverkeeper updates.

Spokane businesses who are among the first to participate in the program include Numerica Credit Union, Silver Bow Fly Shop, FLOW Adventures, Kizuri, Ammonite Ink, and River City Brewing. Members have the opportunity to engage with the Riverkeeper program in four different areas:

  1. Financial Engagement (the giving of monetary resources)
  2. Policy/Program Support (includes attending meetings and signing on to letters)
  3. River Healthy Practices (adopting policies that favor the Spokane River)
  4. Volunteer/Time (participating in Riverkeeper events including the river clean-up)

The wellbeing of the environment is directly linked to wellbeing of the economy and the community in general. Jake Krummel, the Downtown Market Manager for Spokane Numerica Credit Union, stated that “The health of our local watersheds has a direct impact on the health of our community and our local environment. The advocacy and education efforts of the Spokane Riverkeeper showcase the importance of keeping our river clean, and are something Numerica is proud to support.” Participating in the Riverkeeper River Partners Program is an excellent way to protect the Spokane River, grow a business and contribute to increasing the quality of life in the Spokane community. To become a partner, please contact Jerry White at (509) 835-5211 or [email protected].

Find out more about River Partners here.

Community Court

 

IMG_0179I was walking in downtown Spokane on my way to the library headed to Community Court. It is where all the cool kids hang out on Mondays mid-morning to early afternoon. Why do we hang out there, you may ask. Because we care about our community, because we want to help people, we want to make an impact.

Who are these cool kids and what do they do at the downtown library? We are a ragtag group of community organizations that collaborates with the courts to get disadvantaged (and usually impoverished) people the services they need.

Community Court is open to everyone but many start through the courts, as low level, non-violent offenders that would otherwise be jailed for minor offences that are often related their homelessness, drug or alcohol dependency or mental illness. Putting them in jail for minor offenses is expensive for the city and doesn’t help these folks. So the prosecutors, public defenders and the judge collaborate with community organizations to get them services instead.

There are a variety of organizations there to help people get signed up for mental health services, housing, public benefits and oh so much more. I go to represent the Center for Justice and to help people sign up for Medicaid or Washington Apple Health as it’s known in these parts.

Back to my story. I continued my stroll through downtown. IMG_0166The sun was shining, the air was crisp and not many people were out. I always enjoy the walk when the weather is nice. It’s only about a half a mile from my office and the stretch runs along beautiful Riverfront Park with its artwork, fountain and the river running right through the middle of it.

As I got close to crossing the street near the library, a bicyclist sped by and made eye contact. I gave a little nod and he nodded back. He was long and lean and a stocking cap covered much of his head but I could make out some short dreads underneath. He was holding a large piece of cardboard in one hand as he raced by.

I got to the library and settled in at my table with all the other service providers. Said my hellos to friends and set up my computer and my vast array of pamphlets. It got busy.

The tall cyclist came wandering in and sat at my table. He introduced himself. He had the name of a little town in California not too far from where I used to live in my youth. Hearing it brought a smile to my face.

He was soft spoken and polite. He looked like a guy who had just fallen on hard times and was trying to get himself back on track. I signed him up for healthcare without a hitch. He thanked me and left my table. I distractedly went on about my work and finished up for the day.

As I was walking out in a slew of others leaving, he came running up to me from behind. He was out of breath as he handed me the folded piece of cardboard. I opened it up and thanked him. He was gone in a flash. This is what he left behind. I think sharing his artwork was his way of extending a little gratitude for the help I had given him.

 

Comm Court pic

click the links below for more about community court

http://www.inlander.com/spokane/a-new-approach/Content?oid=2243257

http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2016/apr/19/spokanes-community-court-gets-200000-boost/

http://www.spokanelibrary.org/community-court/

Fair Chance Hiring

By Julie Schaffer

March 2016

“Fair Chance Hiring,” also known as “Ban the Box,” is finally getting some much deserved airtime in Spokane. This is welcome news to the 1 in 4 individuals who have a criminal record and who desperately want to tell potential employers why they are the best pick for the job, an opportunity many of them do not get because of the box on the application that asks about criminal history.  Research shows that people who check the box rarely move forward in the hiring process, regardless of whether or not they qualify for the job, how long ago their conviction was, what it was for, or what they’ve done since that time.  To prevent this arbitrary rejection, and to ensure that employers are not missing out on undiscovered talent, 21 states and over 100 jurisdictions have mandated that employers delay asking about criminal history until later in the hiring process – ideally until after the applicant pool has been narrowed based on qualifications and after face-to-face interviews.  Under such policies, employers can still do background checks, they can still ask applicants about their criminal history, and they can still hire the best fit for the job.

Most policies apply to public employers (like City of Spokane’s current policy), but more and more jurisdictions are mandating that private employers comply as well. Why?  Because it’s the right thing to do (we used to allow businesses to disqualify people of color and women), it increases public safety by dramatically reducing the chance that someone will commit another crime, reduces reliance on public benefits, increases the tax base and helps the local economy, ensures that employers aren’t missing out on highly qualified employees, reduces costs related to incarceration, reduces racial disparity in hiring (people of color are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system and therefore suffer more from “the box,” and it allows people who have served their time to return to our community and help us make it thrive.

We are pleased that our city councilmembers are currently exploring whether to require private employers in Spokane to delay background checks until after the initial application stage, something the City has been doing (without incident) for the past year. City Council hosted a Fair Chance Hiring Forum on March 8 to educate themselves and the community more about this issue.  Councilmembers Stuckart and Beggs organized the forum, along with Smart Justice Spokane member orgs CFJ, PJALs and I Did the Time.  District Court Judge Richard Leland graciously moderated with humor and a genuine interest in how this relates to the cycle of crime he sees every day on the bench.  Approximately 100 people showed up (during the Gonzaga WCC championship game!), and it played live on City Cable 5 (Forum Video).  A WSU PhD student presented research showing that employment dramatically reduces crime, CFJ presented the common elements of fair chance hiring laws, and formerly incarcerated individuals courageously shared their personal stories of healing, change, education, and then heartbreaking rejection by ‘the box.”  The evening ended with a diverse panel of business people who have voluntarily removed the box with great results, the City’s Chief Civil Service Examiner who is implementing the City’s Fair Chance Hiring policy, GSI’s new CEO Todd Mielke, and the leader of I Did the Time Layne Pavey.  The discussion was rich and honest, and I believe it demonstrated that there is enough common ground and shared love for this community to create fair hiring in Spokane.

To learn more, visit www.nelp.org/campaign/ensuring-fair-chance-to-work, and watch the Forum Video.  And please spread the word and tell council members what you think (their emails are below).  Our leaders need to hear that the people in this community support Fair Chance Hiring!

Ben Stuckart [email protected]

Amber Waldref [email protected]

Mike Fagan  [email protected]

Candace Mumm [email protected]

Karen Stratton   [email protected]

Lori Kinnear   [email protected]

Breean Beggs   [email protected]

Hurt lingers 10 years after Zehm’s death

By Jeffry Finer / Special to The Spokesman-Review

I remember Otto Zehm.

Working downtown, I would see him from time to time walking, loping really – he walked fast and bounced from step to step – but I never so much as said hello. I did not know he was a musician, or that he had mental illness, that he sometimes heard things the rest of us didn’t. I knew he had the longest golden hair of anyone on the Spokane street scene. And he sang quietly to himself. He smiled but did not seem to want attention. He moved along in his own world. He’d be surprised what his name has come to mean. And how often city leaders and media cite his life and death.

For Spokane, his name evokes strong reactions.

Some see Otto’s death on a personal level. He was beloved by his family (mother, sister and cousins were closest). He was respected and liked at work (at the nonprofit Skils’kin, where he was a janitor). Friends said he was careless with generosity and would give you his only coat if he saw you were cold. Everyone knew him to be gentle.

Most of Spokane, of course, knows about his death in 2006 after two days on life support. We watched local media play and replay his videotaped beating and restraint by a half-dozen local police officers. We know about the City Hall cover-up, the federal criminal case and Officer Karl Thompson’s conviction.

For some of us, the “system worked.” For others, the aftermath of Otto’s death was a system failure that ruined a good cop.

If you voted in February 2013 for Proposition 1, and 70 percent of Spokane voters did, you remember Otto as the poster child for passage of a strongly worded demand for an independent police ombudsman. And unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the office of the ombudsman is in tatters.

Spokane tries to move on.

Officer Thompson has served his time and just this month has been released. The Use of Force Commission met for a year, issued two dozen specific recommendations and dissolved. Some recommendations have taken hold; others, such as changes to Spokane’s “police culture,” have not.

Local civil rights advocates press on – working hard to see that we get the independent ombudsman we overwhelmingly voted for, moving “smart justice” reforms ahead to fix our broken criminal justice system, and pushing the city to hire a new chief of police who is committed to implement the changes our community needs. Other law enforcement issues have come under scrutiny, such as the understaffed jail, its lack of nurses and timely medical services. Just more budget-driven problems facing us and every city and county in America.

Overall? We have yet to heal our relationship with our own peace officers. They have yet to heal their relationship with us.

On the day Officer Thompson was taken into custody, the Friday after the verdict finding him guilty of excessive force and lying in a federal investigation, I sat in the gallery behind Assistant Chief Craig Meidl. He and some four dozen men and women – off-duty police officers sworn to uphold the law – snapped to salute as federal marshals led Officer Thompson away. Otto’s middle-age cousins seated with me were stunned into silence. We looked for help but the court had left and its staff seemed powerless.

In 30 years, I’ve never felt such repressed tension in a courtroom. The marshals, wisely I think, took Thompson away uncuffed and the officers gradually left the courtroom. My apology to the Zehm cousins for the salute brought a cold stare from two officers. At the elevator, another officer blamed the sole reporter present for causing Thompson’s conviction.

It is said that no one should be judged solely by their worst day; and in that sense Officer Thompson’s supporters may have been feeling a conflicted affinity for him. But it remains troubling that the department has failed to account to the public for the embrace by 50 of its officers of a convicted felon. Troubling that there has been no apology and no consequences.

A lot needs doing to restore our faith and trust in our police. Their work requires such trust as surely as we require faithful police. The Center for Justice, where I work with a team of lawyers and community activists, coordinates with citizens, police and local officials to make our city safer and fairer for everyone.

Sometimes the struggle goes on quietly in meetings, or noisily in the media. But a certain spirit of gentleness inspires us at times to keep a memory of Otto Zehm alive. Not only as saber-rattling social change warriors but as neighbors, colleagues, friends and people who remember Otto Zehm.

Legal Financial Obligations: “Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons”

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A huge thanks to intern Jerusha Dressel for researching and writing this blog post.

In 2003, Washington resident David Ramirez was convicted of residential burglary. Currently, the father of four still struggles to make his $30 Legal Financial Obligation (LFO) payment each month. Ramirez cannot go back to his former employment due to medical issues and consequently, the family relies on $400 a month in public aid as well as food stamps for their income. The constant threat of arrest if a payment is missed lingers over him. He is forced to decide between jail and meeting his family’s basic needs: “The message the courts have sent to me over and over again is that if I don’t pay in full every month, I’ll go to jail and I’ll lose everything. I’ve had judges tell me that they don’t care what my other obligations are, LFOs come first. First before food and shelter. It doesn’t matter what my family suffers, so long as the court gets paid.”[1]

In February 2014, the ACLU published a report entitled “Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons: The Ways Court-Imposed Debts Punish People for Being Poor.” The report specifically focused on LFOs in the State of Washington and their effects on offenders and law enforcement efficacy. The report found that 80 to 90 percent of individuals facing felony charges are deemed “indigent” and over half of persons in prison have not obtained a high school diploma.[2] Almost everyone convicted of a crime in the state of Washington must pay LFOs.

Given that a significant portion of the convicted criminal population falls into such a low income bracket and are poorly educated, it is not a stretch to imagine how this could have adverse effects. Many individuals simply want to leave prison and move on with their lives, but LFOs represent a constant reminder of their past. The average LFO for a convicted felon is $2,540 and LFOs for felonies accrue interest at a rate of 12 percent in Washington, which includes the time that the offender is in prison. In light of the high fraction of convicted felons who are labeled indigent, this is an enormous amount and can take years to pay off. LFOs often create a lose-lose situation for offenders and the government. Many individuals are sent back to prison due to an inability to make payments on their LFOs. This may interrupt employment and pull children apart from their parents. According to the ACLU, this “court imposed debt presents a formidable barrier, pushing people deeper into poverty and prolonging their involvement with the criminal justice system.”[3] The criminal justice system is required to process additional paperwork and hunt down and jail persons who fail to keep up on their LFO fees.

Although state statute allows a court to take into account an individual’s financial situation when imposing optional LFOs, that often does not happen. In many cases, persons making payments on LFOs are also dependent on public aid programs such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). These programs are giving these individuals/families funds just so they can sustain an elemental standard of living. However, recipients can be obligated by a court to reroute the money away from necessities such as food and housing in order to pay off LFOs.[4]

In response to the “debtors’ prison” problem in Washington, the ACLU has made seven recommendations. Among these, it encouraged creating “clear statewide criteria for determining a person’s ability to pay LFOs.”[5] The ACLU maintained that taking into account an individual’s financial situation when determining LFOs should be mandatory. There are currently no standards set for the examination of an individual’s financial situation. Clear guidelines need to be established for determining whether a person is fiscally capable of handling LFO payments. The ACLU also recommends that Washington “[e]liminate the current 12% interest rate on non-restitution LFOs, and suspend all interest during incarceration.”[6] Additional proposals include ensuring that defendants understand their rights and are allowed council throughout the court process.[7]

The Center for Justice provides services to aid those struggling under the burden of LFOs:

  • We can ask the courts to waive the interest that has accrued on non-restitution LFOs, either while an individual was incarcerated or after he or she was released.
  • We can ask the courts to reduce interest that has accrued on restitution.
  • We can help determine if LFOs will ever expire.
  • We can help create a realistic, long-term budgeting strategy that allows the individual to make payments on their LFOs and avoid sanctions for nonpayment.

This is all part of an effort to reduce the number of individuals trapped in a cycle of poverty. Before making payments on their LFOs, persons should be permitted to ensure that basic needs such as food and housing are being met. Moreover, by aiding in the development of long-term budget strategies, the Center helps the individual become an active participant in his or her success.

Across Washington, there are situations similar to that of David Ramirez. Individuals committed a crime years ago and really just want to move on with their lives cannot because they are still living with the burden of LFOs. These are ordinary, everyday people with families to provide for and dreams for the future. Despite his situation, Ramirez expresses optimism about the future, “I believe in America, you know? I love this country. I want to start a business and provide for my family. My kids are straight A students, and I want them to go to college. But right now, I feel like the fines keep me from getting up and breathing and being the person I want to be.”[8]

[1] “MODERN-DAY DEBTORS’ PRISONS: The Ways Court-Imposed Debts Punish People for Being Poor,” ACLU, February 2014, accessed February 29, 2016, https://cforjustice.org/legal-services/legal-financial-obligations-lfos/.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] “MODERN-DAY DEBTORS’ PRISONS: The Ways Court-Imposed Debts Punish People for Being Poor,” ACLU.

Smart Justice: Recommendations for Reform

Western and many fellow prison-policy scholars have observed that American criminal-justice policy is built on the rheA huge thanks to intern Jerusha Dressel for researching and writing this blog post .

Although the U.S. contains only five percent of the globe’s population, the country houses 20 percent of its prisoners. Numerous individuals are let out of prison every day, but over two-thirds of these individuals will be detained again by police in the next three years and about half will be sent back to prison. Since 1978, the number of individuals in American prisons has increased by 408 percent. In Spokane, 70 percent of the budget goes towards funding the criminal justice system and half of the individuals in prison have not yet had a trial. Additionally, around 80 percent of prisoners have “substance abuse and/or mental health issues.”[1] Something is clearly wrong with these numbers. Instead of reforming the individual and aiding them in becoming functional members of society, the American prison system has become overcrowded and inefficient.

Smart Justice recognizes that there are groups, including ethnic minorities, the impoverished, and the disabled, that are disproportionately negatively affected by the criminal justice system in Spokane and it seeks to remedy this inequality. Its mission is “to implement comprehensive, cost-effective, and research-based smart justice reforms in the Spokane criminal justice system by conducting research, educating, mobilizing impacted voices, advocating and collaborating for a just, strong, and healthy community, which fosters racial equity and opportunities for recovery and integration.”[2] Smart Justice recognizes that hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars are being spent on a system that is largely ineffective. The coalition has put forward a list of six recommendations for improvement of the current criminal justice system:

  1. View the problem through a “Smart Justice Lens.”[3] That is, keep in mind the ultimate goal of reforming the system when making judgments and policy changes.
  2. Involve community input in solutions, especially voices from groups that are unduly negatively affected by the current system.
  3. Data on race and ethnicity should be used to improve current systems, rules and regulations.
  4. Reducing the number of individuals in prison through means including jail substitutes and alternate processes for rehabilitation should be explored, especially for “non-violent, low-risk” persons.[4]
  5. Analyze programs with the goal of understanding what is and is not working.
  6. Delay investing resources in increasing the size of the jail.[5]

The third point is referring to data that has demonstrated that certain ethnic groups are disparately impacted by the current justice system. In 2014, the demographics of the Spokane jails and Spokane County were as follows:

sj11There is a definite contrast between these two sets of statistics in the chart above. Although Caucasians make up 86 percent of the Spokane County population, they constitute only 67 percent of the jail population. Moreover, African-Americans compose two percent of the Spokane County population but 12 percent of the jail population and American Indians/Alaska Natives accounted for one percent of the general population but seven percent of the jail population.[6]

Additionally, Smart Justice has expounded upon its fourth recommendation. This policy change included a program that reminded persons of their court dates so that fewer individuals are jailed as a result of a simple “failure to appear.”[7] This point also involves the redirection of funds from financing jail time to paying for programs that aid the offender in overcoming personal problems such as addiction or mental health issues. Additionally, this policy recommendation pushes for an initial assessment of prisoners that helps “ensure that release conditions, plea negotiations and sanctions are matched to the individual’s risks and need.”[8] These evaluations would allow decisions about the offenders punishment and post-prison accountability program be catered to the individual’s requirements. The fourth point also recommends working with individuals once they leave prison, helping them with processes such as finding employment and housing.[9]

A Harvard Magazine article critiquing the American criminal justice system noted: “Western and many fellow prison-policy scholars have observed that American criminal-justice policy is built on the rhetoric of personal responsibility—paying for one’s bad decision—to the exclusion of asking why minority and low-income groups are so much more likely to make bad decisions, or how society fails them.”[10] In a democratic society, there is a tendency towards an individualistic, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mindset. This mentality is reflected in the American criminal justice system. However, there are individuals who do not even have bootstraps to pull themselves up by. Smart Justice aims to give individuals bootstraps. Instead of simply locking up someone every time they commit a crime, it invites a justice system that looks at offenders on a more individual basis. It allows for a structure that asks what is best for the improvement of the specific person.

 

Chart accessed February 22, 2016 from http://www.spokanecounty.org/data/scljc/subcommittees/racialequity/Data%20Slides%20Final.pdf.
[1] “Vision,” Smart Justice Spokane, accessed February 22, 2016, http://smartjusticewashington.org/vision/.
[2]“About Us,” Smart Justice Spokane, accessed February 22, 2016,  http://smartjusticewashington.org/about-us/.
[3] “Smart Justice Policy Recommendations,” Smart Justice Spokane, January 22, 2013, http://web.archive.org/web/20141225223703/http:/smartjusticewashington.org/media/blogs/spokane/Smart%20Justice%20Policy%20Recommendations.pdf?mtime=1364885768.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] “Spokane Regional Criminal Justice System Data Slides,” Spokane County, accessed February 22, 2016, http://www.spokanecounty.org/data/scljc/subcommittees/racialequity/Data%20Slides%20Final.pdf.
[7] “Smart Justice Policy Recommendations,” Smart Justice Spokane.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Elizabeth Gudrais, “The Prison Problem,” Harvard Magazine, March-April 2013, http://harvardmagazine.com/2013/03/the-prison-problem.