By nearly all accounts and county commissioners’ own admission, the road to building a new Spokane County Jail facility has been a long and winding one.
There has also been more than just a little misinformation spread about the project. Some critics have said the county is simply looking to build more space to lock up offenders, when in reality there are large community corrections and rehabilitation programs that will play key roles.
And even city of Spokane officials, say commissioners, have some false ideas about the plan. That’s evident as the city has looked toward creating its own minimum-security detention facility when the county has that municipality’s low-risk offenders accounted for in the future.
For those reasons, and others, the commissioners are eager to begin a public-relations campaign to educate the public on the county’s progress toward next April’s proposed bond vote to build expanded corrections facilities.
“We can’t afford to wait any longer,” board Chairman Mark Richard said Tuesday.
The commissioners plan to sign a $62,000 contract with Tobby Hatley and Associates for a six-month public-information campaign that the commissioners hope will clear up some of the confusion regarding the project.
“Folks are going to ask questions that they probably should have asked a long time ago,” Richard said.
Last week, results from a “weighted analysis” study confirmed that the a new medium-security jail tower – to be constructed adjacent to the existing Spokane County Jail, built in 1986 – at the county courthouse complex is the best location. Sites in Airway Heights and the Medical Lake interchange at Interstate 90, were ranked second and third of 10, respectively; however, those would likely be less-expensive “horizontal” facilities.
Any new jail will top $200 million and could go as high as $265 million, depending on the structure built. A “vertical” tower at the courthouse complex would be the most expensive to build, but the cheapest to run in the long term.
A public hearing on the matter has been tentatively set for May 12 before the commissioners.
County officials, however, were thrown for a loop last week when city of Spokane officials announced they were considering possibly building their own minimum-security facility rather than continue to pay the county.
Spokane Mayor Mary Verner stressed, however, that “no decisions have been made” and that the idea was just “one of multiple options.”
On Tuesday, Lt. Mike Sparber, who is heading up the sheriff’s effort to build a new jail, told commissioners when the subject of a new jail comes up, it will be up to the hired public relations team to get the right information out.
“Time is running out,” he said.
Commissioner Todd Mielke suggested that law-enforcement and government officials from the county, city and other interested stakeholders meet “sooner rather than later” to clear up any other lingering misinformation.
Sparber said that it would be a good idea to get representatives from local jurisdictions together soon to make sure “everyone is on the same piece of music” before moving forward.
“I don’t know about you, but I don’t’ want to go through again what we went through last week,” he said.
Richard agreed, but added that the county needs to get moving with a new jail.
“We still need this facility,” he said, adding that Spokane’s allotment of inmates at Geiger Corrections – which will no longer be available to the county after 2013 – is only 100 out of 700 inmates. “We’re three or four years overdue. Frankly, we needed it when I came into office.”