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Spokane using risk assement tool to ease jail overcrowding

Spokane using risk assement tool to...

SPOKANE, Wash. - Spokane is hoping it can cut down on the number of people of committing crimes over and over with several new restorative justice programs.

After the city received a $1.75 million grant from the MacArther foundation in April of 2016, KXLY took a look Wednesday at how the grant is working to keep local homes and families safer.

You've heard about the revolving door at the county jail where non-violent crooks keep getting arrested, then released on a low bond, only to go out and commit more crimes and start the process all over again. Well, Spokane has hopefully come up with a new way to keep that from happening.

Up until now, when a defendant appeared in court after their arrest, Spokane judges were forced to struggle with whether or not that person could safely be released, or should be kept in custody until his or her trial.

Spokane Superior Court judge Maryann Moreno explained, “what we're really trying to do is release the right people and hold the right people. And sometimes in the past, at least for me, that's been sort of like a ouija board.”

But now, judges have a computer program to help them predict if a suspect is likely to reoffend or to be a flight risk. The tool is the product of a study of 13,000 previous Spokane criminal cases.

“For me, the use of that tool allows me to make these decisions much more competently and I think, makes me feel that I can assist somehow in making our community safer,” said Judge Moreno.

Judge Moreno has never been soft on crime, but can only lock up a limited number of suspects in our critically overcrowded jail.
 
This new risk assessment tool should make room for the worst of the worst, while weeding out those less likely to re-offend.

City Council President Ben Stuckart said, “this is a better solution than just building a bigger jail. The tools and assessment of an individual's needs and public safety risk is giving judge the information they need.”

The risk assessment tool will help predict if that car thief took your ride on a lark or will likely do it again.

A lot of the people overcrowding the Spokane County jail should be released on bond, but their family or loved ones do not have the means to bail them out.

That in turn costs taxpayers money, $130 a day to be exact, times 965 inmates.

For that same amount, the county could put them up at the Davenport for a night.

“If they're safe to be out in the community, they can be monitored by pre-trial services. We can be getting them--on a voluntary basis--working with some social workers, engaged in some services and support,” explained Dr. Jacqueline Van Wormer, Criminal Justice Administrator for Spokane County. “As a taxpayer, I think that's where you'd want your dollars to go, as long as we know they are safe.”

The MacArthur grant hired a half dozen new pre-trial services employees to supervise the people who are released, instead of held prior to their trial date.

“It has nothing to do with being easy on anyone. It has to do with what is required by the law, and what's fair,” said Judge Moreno.

So, Spokane is trying its hand at what's known as restorative justice. It means focusing on the cause of an offenders illegal behavior and getting them help if they want it. 


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