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Inmate Population Is On The Rise In Spokane County

Posted 3/20/2013 10:38 AM by MDGREGORY

During the past few years, as the population dropped, the number of arrestees remained steady. In 2008, the system housed a daily average of 1,126 inmates, but by 2010, the average dropped to 736. Spokane County Sheriff's Office reported the population numbers Monday, March 18, 2013, at 950 with little room to spare.

The Sheriff's Office operates two detention facilities, Geiger Corrections Center and the Spokane County Jail. Between the two facilities, there are approximately 1,200 beds, but after budget cuts and the decline of population in 2010, the Sheriff's Office reduced its staffing levels and closed down housing units at Geiger resulting in a reduced bed availability of 860 beds.

Last fall, the daily population peaked at 933 inmates. It seems likely for the increase to continue, said Captain John McGrath, Commander of the Spokane County Sheriff's Office Detention Services division. If it does, McGrath will need to re-open housing units and ask the Board of County Commissioners for more staff to watch over the prisoners.

With reduced staffing levels and increased population, there are a number of safety issues. The aging facilities at Geiger pose inherent issues of their own. In the late 1970's, Geiger was created to be transitional housing for inmates re-entering the community.

In 1997, because the jail was overcrowded, Geiger began being used as an overflow for the jail. The problem this creates is Geiger was never designed to hold inmates, especially on a long term basis. In addition, because of the design and layout of Geiger, only minimum and medium risk inmates can be housed there.

The majority of the current inmate population is classified as high medium and can't be housed at Geiger. This is why, even with two facilities, the jail remains overcrowded as it has been since 1995. The jail was designed to house all classified levels.

The Spokane County Jail was designed for 462 inmates. It was retro fitted to house 600 inmates. The jail can house a maximum of 675 inmates under overcrowded conditions. In the past, the jail has reached over 700 inmates. "You have to separate the men from the women, the special needs inmates and the sex offenders. As the jail gets closer to full capacity, it will get harder to segregate some inmates. It's just not a safe environment," McGrath said.

The project for a new detention facility to replace Geiger Corrections remains on hold. "Geiger Corrections needs to be replaced,” said Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich. "Understanding the basic principle behind our plan is to address a public safety issue. It's about building the right size jail system that is designed to work efficiently with us, not against us. It's about always having a bed available when someone needs to go to jail. It's having a Community Corrections Center that provides evidence based programs for offenders to be successful, productive citizens in the community so they don't keep coming back to jail."