When the subject is where to build a new jail, it’s expected there will be a certain amount of NIMBYism to come up.
However, at a public hearing last week, the talk wasn’t just “not in my back yard” but also overwhelmingly “not in anyone’s yard at all.”
For about two hours on May 12, Spokane County commissioners heard testimony on whether a new corrections facility should be built at the downtown courthouse campus – site of the existing jail – or in Airway Heights or near the Medical Lake interchange.
However, James Mires, the very first speaker, set the tone for much of what came later: The best option might not be bricks-and-mortar, but an emphasis on corrective programs and education.
“We need to go the other way,” Mires said. “If you build a (new) jail, you’re going to have to fill it.”
A new tower, built adjacent to the 24-year-old existing jail, would cost about $265 million for construction and related structures. Due to its proximity the courts and other services, it’s believed to be the best location for a new jail, according to a pair of analyses conducted prior to last week’s hearing.
The other locations would favor a “horizontal,” campus-style jail, which would cost less -- $228 million – but be more expensive to operate per year. A rural site would require greater transportation costs and about $3.3 million to staff, whereas the downtown location could be operated for $1.9 annually. The price tag for operations alone could require a separate tax increase on top of the bond issue that will be necessary to build the jail.
“How are we going to fund it?” Mires asked. “Building this jail is a big mistake.”
It was pointed out, however, that community corrections will be a big component of the jail operations, which will house between 250 and 300 day-release inmates.
“It’s part of the program base,” said Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich. “(Programs are) part of the $265 million. It’s not just a building.”
While the downtown location is not favored by Greater Spokane Inc., the county courthouse is the most sensible site as far as keeping prisoners near court rooms and minimizing security risks, argued Tony Bamonte, the former sheriff of Pend Oreille County.
“When you arrest someone and they go back and forth to a number of hearings, I hope you aren’t even considering (a rural site),” he said.
County commissioners are expected to make a final decision on a location on June 8 in anticipation of a bond vote going before the electorate in April 2011.