SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. — Numerous Spokane-area public figures and dozens of others attended a public meeting at Spokane Valley City Hall on Monday to offer their thoughts on the county's criminal justice system.
It's part of a months-long process by the county to come up with a myriad of solutions to problems ranging from recidivism to mental health treatment to jail conditions.
Spokane mayoral candidates Jonathan Bingle and Nadine Woodward, Spokane council president candidate Phil Tyler, Spokane state representative Jenny Graham, and Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich attended the meeting.
Event organizers took and recorded feedback from the public on what's wrong with the system and how to fix it.
One common theme: removing unnecessary burdens on the system.
"There seemed to be a consensus that really there are public health issues that are at stake here that really are inappropriate to manage in our jail facility and inappropriate to address through the criminal justice system," said Maggie Yates, Spokane's law and justice administrator who served as one of the leaders of the meeting.
"There are things that the justice system's doing that the justice system shouldn't be doing," said participant Vern Brock, saying police should not be the ones handling mental health treatment.
To Knezovich, these conversations are getting redundant.
"There are times I feel like I'm trapped in Groundhog Day," he said. "Because we've been discussing this issue for the last fourteen years. Nothing in here is anything new that I've heard over the last fourteen years."
He's referring in part to the ongoing debate over whether to build a new jail facility in the county, a decision the county commissioners will make.
"The Spokane County Jail needs to be revamped because we have a serious problem," Knezovich said. "Whenever you have eight of my inmates die in fourteen months, that's a problem."
He says the proposed plan for a new jail addresses all of the problems raised in these meetings.
"Everything they talked about is structured within that master plan. And it's sad that we have not moved forward and we have watched people die," Knezovich said.
However, other meeting participants found the conversations useful.
"I learned a lot. I think people listened and paid attention to each other, and were open to new ideas," said participant Barb Brock.
"I think having conversation is always important," Yates added. "We need to make sure we're engaging all the stakeholders across the system, across the government and in the community."
The second meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Northeast Community Center.
The idea is to collect as much input and data as possible before a dedicated task force makes various recommendations to the county commissioners several months down the road.