NEW YORK (AP) - A charitable foundation dedicated to reducing the number of Americans behind bars has awarded 11 U.S. jails millions of dollars to overhaul their operations.
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced the finalists Wednesday that will receive grants of between $1.5 million and $3 million over two years.
The Chicago-based organization says those jail systems will also get expert help as they reduce their jail populations by as much as one third. It also aims to address racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system and implement new programs to improve the system overall.
Spokane County is one of 11 places in the country chosen to receive the funding. They will get $1.75 million.
The Spokane County Jail operates at "critical status" almost daily. So with the funds, the goal is to reduce the jail population by 17% in two years and 21% in three years.
According to the County, 65% of people held in jail are held pre trial meaning they are waiting for their day in court. To reduce that number, a big chunk of the grant money will go toward hiring eight additional pre-trial services staff to provide more options for people to be supervised outside of the jail.
"With a more robust pre-trial services dept we can now release them on supervision by one of these employees who will then monitor them, who will call them with reminders for court, will check up on them, will have them report, many different conditions can be in place and that will assure the court at least that they will return for court," said Spokane Judge Ann Moreno.
The money will also create at least one more position for a mental health social worker to help address mental health issues. County leaders said 85% of people in the jail have a mental illness.
"This is not about being soft on crime this is about being smart and assessing the risks and the needs of those in our jail assuring we have the right folks in jail and those who are not a risk for our community putting them out on some of the other options," said Spokane County Commissioner Shelly O'Quinn.
County leaders said there is also problem with racial disparity in the jail and found that minorities are over-represented in the jail population. For example, the average length of stay in 2014 was 15 days in jail, but for African Americans the average length of stay was 25 days, for Native Americans it was 21 days and for Hispanics and Latinos it was 22 days. Money from the grant will also help create a new training program and focus on correcting the problem.
Experts say too many serve time on minor charges because they can't afford bail, have serious mental illnesses or have drug problems.
Grants were awarded to New York City; Charleston County, South Carolina; Pima County, Arizona; Harris County, Texas; Connecticut, where the state runs jails; Philadelphia; New Orleans; Lucas County, Ohio, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin; Spokane County, Washington; and St. Louis County, Missouri.