By Mike Prager
SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane County commissioners on Tuesday asked county staff to take steps to reduce inmate populations in anticipation of Geiger Corrections Center closing.
A budget move by the city of Spokane to send 50 or more inmates to cheaper beds in Benton County is prompting the county to consider closing Geiger and squeezing the remaining inmates into the county jail.
Sheriff's Lt. Mike Sparber told commissioners that the overall jail population could be reduced by releasing inmates who are not promptly charged by the prosecuting attorney.
Commissioner Todd Mielke suggested expanding home detention.
Mielke and Commissioners Al French and Mark Richard all said they support a computer conversion of arrest reports and charging documents to save money and speed up case handling.
The prosecuting attorney's office could get an additional lawyer to handle more cases in a timely manner.
Richard said faster case resolution brings accountability to the offender sooner. "We need to be smarter about the folks we're holding in our facility," he said.
Pretrial services may be expanded to handle more cases as well.
An early case resolution system involving law enforcement, prosecutors, defenders and the courts may become a model for getting offenders out of jail and into programs to help them repair their lives, officials said.
Marshall Farnell, the county's chief executive officer, said funding for some of the changes will have to come from the jail budget.
"You've got to quantify these investments," he told Sparber.
City officials for now have put on hold their plan to move out 50 inmates to Benton County to allow Spokane County time to prepare for potential closing of Geiger.
Employees at the corrections center near Spokane International Airport will have to be notified under labor contracts.
Richard said in an interview that layoffs are possible.
Geiger's population would fall to about 110 to 130 inmates.
The county's inmate population averaged about 770 offenders last year. Of those, 127 inmates were the financial responsibility of the city. The county is obligated to pay the cost for all felony inmates.
"We are going to be in the felony business because that's what our jail is going to be full of," Sparber told commissioners.
Benton County would charge Spokane $56 a day for each inmate under a subsidized rate compared with $111 that Spokane County charges.
The decision to move inmates to Benton County came as the City Council last year weighed options for reducing expenses in the city's 2012 budget.
Similar budget problems would probably force the county to close Geiger when the city inmates leave, Mielke said. "Every bed in the jail is going to be a precious bed," he said.
The county's $500,000-a-year lease of Geiger from the airport expires in August.
Richard said in an interview that the city's decision to move out inmates sets back efforts to plan for a new jail to replace Geiger.
A wider overhaul of the county's criminal justice system has been an ongoing discussion for months. It has involved a recommendation to build a community corrections center for work release and rehabilitation of lower-risk offenders.
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Copyright 2012 Spokane Spokesman-Review