Why not try real solutions?
Spokane could just decide to love its community more. Everyone wants less crime, but leaning on police to do all the work just creates more prisoners. We need to actually invest in our community; in each other.
The Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council (SRLJC) was a government body made up of judges, law enforcement, prosecutors, and representatives of the Spokane community. The mission of the SRLJC was to analyze and make recommendations to local jurisdictions on issues related to promoting a racially equitable, cost-effective regional criminal justice system” reduce recidivism, and increase collaboration across the justice system.
Who created the SRLJC and why?
In 2012 the City of Spokane and Spokane County governments asked a retired judge, former prosecutor, and defense attorney to review the local criminal justice system and produce a report about how it could be improved. This group was called the Spokane Regional Criminal Justice Commission (SRCJC), and was the precursor to the SRLJC. The report they produced was called the Blueprint for Reform.
The Spokane Regional Criminal Justice Commission (SRCJC, precursor to the SRLJC) published the Blueprint for Reform on December 31, 2013. This document identified aspects of the criminal justice system most in need of reform. It made recommendations for changes and established a five-year timeline to execute them. An October 2020 status report summarized the progress made on the Blueprint for Reform.
In April 2016, Spokane County was awarded a $1.75 Million MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge Grant. The grant application was spearheaded by the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council (SRLJC). The purpose of the grant was to fund the work of transforming Spokane’s justice system and reducing jail populations.
A(n Un) Representative SRLJC
In March 2017 (per the SRLJC’s request), the Spokane Board of County Commissioners (its overseeing body), passed a resolution to increase the size of the SRLJC to 23+ members to enhance its criminal justice reform work. It officially included:
The expanded SRLJC was almost entirely white, contributing to community outcry just over a year later.
The Burns Institute, a MacArthur grant partner in the Safety and Justice Challenge, studied racial disparities in the Spokane County justice system on behalf of the SRLJC.
In August of 2018, the Burns Institute published a Racial Equity Study that found “There is overrepresentation of Black and Native American adults in both the pretrial and sentenced jail populations in Spokane County in 2016.”
In October 2020, nearly seven years after the first Blueprint for Reform was published, the original Blueprint authors published a status report for Spokane County. It identified 44 reform recommendations related to the first Blueprint and concluded:
7 areas weren’t easily judged in terms of progress. The 2020 Status Report also recommended structural changes to the SRLJC, saying “the body has struggled to live up to its original charge due to the unwieldy number of participants, internal disagreement over the Council’s purpose and authority, and ongoing public scrutiny.”
Blueprint for Reform PDF
The Racial Equity Committee
The Racial Equity Committee was formed as part of the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council. Their mission was to develop action plans to address the excessive and lopsided impact of the criminal justice system on people of color in our community. It included community members, representatives from the City Prosecutor’s office, the Public Defender’s office, and the NAACP. The original Racial Equity Committee had 14 members.The committee has since been reduced to 5 members. Former racial equity subcommittee member Mary Lou Johnson said “I think the resolution passed by the Board of County Commissioner takes us back more than a decade.”
On June 29, the Spokane Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) legally dissolved the SRLJC of 26 members and created a new SRLJC with 18 members, and less authority, despite several community organizations and hundreds of emails advocating to keep the original organization.
The new SRLJC eliminated 8 seats; the three county commissioners stepped away, and the Spokane mayor, Spokane City Council representative, Spokane Chief of Police, and an at-large community member lost their seats.
On Wednesday, July 14, the old SRLJC met for the last time.