Spokane County Sheriff John Nowels and other leaders push for new county jail

Sheriff Nowels and other county and city leaders are urging voters to approve a measure that would fund construction of the new jail.

SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. — Spokane city and county leaders say a new county jail is urgently needed. That’s why they’re encouraging voters to approve “Measure 1” on the upcoming November ballot, which will fund the construction of a new jail.

On Monday, Spokane County Sherrif John Nowels held a press conference about Measure 1 with county commission chair Mary Kuney, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward and SPD assistant chief Justin Lundgren.

They said the criminal justice system can no longer keep up with the number of arrests and limited jail space. Which is why they believe the measure needs to pass now, even though other elected leaders are asking to delay voting on this.

“We have to start today,” Sheriff Nowels said. “We’ve waited 15 years longer to do this that we should have.”

If Measure 1is approved,  Spokane county residents would see a 0.2% sales tax increase, which would be used to construct the new jail. The county just launched a website about the measure.

60% of the revenue will be allocated to the county and 40% will go to cities and towns in the county.  One-third of the revenue collected from this sales tax must be used for criminal justice purposes. The remaining two-thirds of revenues collected may be spent on criminal justice, public safety or behavioral health purposes.

The county plans to use its allocated funds to build a new Community Correction Center behind the current jail and close the Geiger Corrections Center.

Commissioner Kuney expressed how urgently a new facility is needed.

“Our civil and criminal courts are congested and our jails routinely overcapacity,” Kuney said “We are also seeing skyrocketing drug and alcohol addiction and increasing mental health needs. These things aren’t just big needs, they’re urgent needs. That is why this ballot measure is on the ballot in November.”

Not only would funding from Measure 1 address overcrowding at the jail. Sheriff Nowels said it will also fund wrap-around services for those in custody.

“A modern criminal justice system holds people accountable while also providing avenues for people to better themselves through education, through receiving therapy to change behavior, whether that’s substance use disorder treatment or mental health treatment,” Sheriff Nowels said. “Measure one will provide funding for us to be innovative in all of those areas in Spokane County.”

This press conference comes just days after two Spokane city council members asked county commissioners to delay voting on Measure 1. Council President Lori Kinnear and council member Zack Zappone, in partnership with Local 492 Corrections Officers, said they want more time to better plan how the money would be spent by the city before it goes to a vote. 

While this request was a surprise to Commissioner Kuney, Spokane Mayor Woodward said it was not.

“I wasn’t necessarily surprised, but we definitely need to move forward,” Woodward said, “There is an immediacy about responding to public safety in the way that we want to provide public safety.”

In a statement from city council member Zack Zappone, he said Monday’s press conference does not change or address any of the concerns raised about Measure 1. He adds this continues to be a one billion dollar blank check to government and that voters deserve to have a plan for the city’s use of the funding in place.

Zappone’s full statement can be read below:

“Today’s press conference does not change or address any of the concerns we raised. I am disappointed that the County Commissioners, the Mayor, and the Sheriff did not want to collaborate but rather resorted to a press conference for fear mongering and optics. This continues to be a one billion dollar blank check to government that is fiscally irresponsible and I believe voters will see that. We agree that we have a problem and we want to address the crime that is happening. However, we still have a staffing issue. In fact, we could increase our capacity at Geiger by 70 beds if we hired 4 new correctional officers. I have been told we are unable to do so. So, how do we know we would even be able to staff a new facility? I would rather take another nine months to collaborate and come up with a proposal so voters know what they would be paying for and so it would actually pass. Some of the information from the press conference was misleading. The Mayor said we would use 450 million dollars over the next 30 years to hire more officers but in fact her own police leadership have told us they have no plans to hire more officers in the next 2 years and they have not applied to federal grants that would pay for more officers because they have no plans to hire any. I am disappointed in today’s press conference and I believe the people of Spokane deserve to have a true plan set in place.”

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