Smart Justice

The Center for Justice and our Smart Justice coalition partners are working together to create a more fair, just and effective regional criminal justice system.

What is our Vision? lady justice statue holding justice scales

To implement a criminal justice system in Spokane that looks at each offender as an individual and matches each person with an intervention that evidence shows:



-Reduces the likelihood that the person will re-offend;
-Is responsive to victims’ needs;
-Makes the community safer; and
-Is a smart investment of taxpayer dollars.

Why does this matter to our clients and our community?

We are currently funding a system that relies heavily on jail, which is the most expensive and least effective way to reduce crime and make the community safer.

Jail costs taxpayers approx. $100 per day, per inmate, and it does nothing to stop the cycle of crime. In fact, it can make people worse.  Approximately 70% of our County’s budget goes towards this system.

The jail has a disproportionate impact on people of color, people with mental illness, and people who are low-income or indigent.

Many of the people in our jail do not need to be locked up for community safety reasons – they are there for non-violent offenses such as failing to pay legal financial obligations, driving on a suspended license, failing to appear for court, or are awaiting trial. Only 13% of the people in jail are there serving a sentence.

What’s the good news?

We do not need to re-create the wheel! The evidence is clear – By investing in evidence-based alternatives to incarceration, as well as in treatment and support services, we can break the cycle of crime, save tremendous amounts of taxpayer money, and make our community safer.

We simply need to decide this is a priority and re-allocate resources to make it happen. The Center and our partners are working hard to urge local decision-makers and stakeholders to invest in a smarter system.  If you would like to get involved or learn more visit

What have we achieved so far?

  • We gathered a broad, diverse coalition of community members and organizations around a common goal of reforming our local criminal justice system.
  • We talked with stakeholders and conducted research to better understand how our criminal justice system was currently functioning. We learned about programs in other jurisdictions that were successfully reducing jail populations, saving money, and decreasing crime. Click here to see the results of our research in our collection of white papers.
  • We organized and hosted a Smart Justice Symposium in 2012, which gathered over 100 stakeholders, experts, and community members to discuss evidence-based alternatives to incarceration.
  • The Symposium raised awareness in our community about a better way of delivering justice and prompted the Mayor and the County to jointly appoint a three-member independent Regional Criminal Justice Commission to conduct an audit of our current criminal justice system and to issue recommendations for reform.
  • We engaged closely with the Commission during their review process and attended nearly all of their meetings with stakeholders and experts (over 30 meetings). Our coalition presented our own Smart Justice Recommendations for Reform to the Commission, most of which ended up in their final Blueprint for Reform, issued in December 2013.

Where are we going in the future?

  • We are committed to seeing that City and County actually implement the Commission’s Recommendations, and will provide support during this process in whatever ways we can.
  • We are leading the way in implementing some specific Smart Justice policies. One of those policies is referred to as “Ban the Box” or a “Fair Chance Employment Policy.” We believe that people with criminal records deserve a chance to re-enter our communities and become productive, engaged members of our local economy. Unfortunately, potential employers often ask about criminal history on the application and dismiss applicants who “check the box,” without considering their qualifications or individual circumstances. This blanket exclusion prevents individuals from creating a healthy, legal lifestyle and increases the likelihood that they will cycle back into our criminal justice system. “Ban the Box” and “Fair Chance” policies direct employers to give people with criminal records an opportunity to be judged based on their qualifications first, without the stigma of a record. The policies prohibit blanket exclusions against people with records, and ensure that employers consider criteria such as the age of the offense, rehabilitation efforts, and relevance to the job. As of June 2014, 11 states and 60 counties and cities have adopted such policies governing their public employment hiring processes. Of those, 4 states and 12 local jurisdictions have applied the policies to private employers as well. The EEOC recommends as a “best practice…that employers not ask about convictions on job applications and that, if and when they make such inquiries, the inquiries be limited to convictions for which exclusion would be job related…and consistent with business necessity.” We are actively working to implement these policies in Spokane, both with public and private employers. See for more information on national trends and model policies.
  • We are working with the Spokane Police Department to explore implementing a “Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion” program, based off of the pilot program in Seattle. This program would allow police officers to divert individuals who are engaging in low-level, non-violent criminal behavior into intensive case-management rather than into jail. The goal is to save jail beds for truly dangerous offenders, to reduce recidivism among participants, and to provide long-term savings to taxpayers.
  • When a defendant fails to appear for a court hearing, it costs taxpayers approximately $1,400 and usually results in a warrant being issued and the person being held in jail until their next court date. This is disruptive for the individual, expensive for taxpayers, and results in jail overcrowding. It is not uncommon for defendants to miss hearings, especially when hearings are scheduled weeks in advance. Failing to appear is often due to chaotic life circumstances, living in crisis, being transient, addiction or mental illness. Several communities have adopted “court date notification” systems that have dramatically reduced their “failure to appear” rates. A court date notification system uses either a live or automated phone call, or text, to remind individuals of upcoming hearings (just like the dentist’s office reminds you about a teeth cleaning). We are exploring ways to implement a similar system in our local court system.