Propositions on Nov. 7 ballot to fund new County Jail and Justice Center

By Marsha Michaelis

What, then, is law? It is the collective
organization of the individual right to lawful
defense.
–Frederic Bastiat

Among the legitimate and essential jobs of government, keeping the peace and pursuing justice are at the top of the list, and Stevens County Sheriff Brad Manke is making the case that a new jail facility is necessary to this work.


Manke says the county’s current jail is too small and too crowded, and it has some layout and location issues that create dangerous situations for inmates, corrections officers, and victims of crime.


The county’s current jail is housed in the basement of the courthouse. Built in the early 1970s, it was designed to hold up to 22 inmates to serve the county’s 18,000 residents. More bunks were added to cells in the 1980s, expanding jail capacity to 44 inmates, while the county’s population has since almost tripled to 47,000 people. On the day of this writing, the jail’s roster shows 71 inmates, including at least twelve women.


This overcrowding means there are often three inmates in a cell, with one sleeping on a mattress on the floor. Even with its own triple-booked cells, Stevens County pays more than $150,000 a year to house inmates in the jails of Ferry, Lincoln, and Pend Oreille counties.


The biggest problem caused by overcrowding is that some offenders may not be arrested at all or may receive lighter sentences upon conviction because jail space is taken up by more serious and violent offenders.


“The criminal element in Stevens County knows there are little to no consequences for minor criminal activity due to no jail space,” writes Sheriff Manke in his description of the problem.


Manke says the layout of the current jail, and its location in the courthouse, also creates potentially dangerous situations. Arrestees can be combative, uncooperative, and intoxicated, but must be brought down a narrow and steep flight of stairs, through narrow hallways and around blind corners, to be booked into jail.


At court appearances, inmates must be brought on a public elevator and through public hallways to get to courtrooms. “Obviously, this is not ideal,” writes Manke. “Victims of violent crimes may have to come within feet of their perpetrators due to inadequate facilities.”


Manke also says the poor working conditions are contributing to high turnover in the jail’s corrections staff. The sheriff’s department is currently seeking to hire qualified corrections deputies. Applicants must be at least 21 years old with a clean record. Interested individuals can find a job description and application on the county website (www.stevenscountywa.gov).


A new jail facility, says Manke, will result in lower crime rates as “our criminal element will now know there’s accountability.” More space and a better design would allow for efficient use of staff (a smaller deputy to inmate ratio) and other helpful elements as well, such as rehabilitation, mental health and education services, substance abuse treatment, and even, potentially, work crews and other purposeful inmate programs in the future.

“The jail, working properly, is a good deterrent,” said Manke.


The sheriff’s proposal is for a new facility that will have approximately 110 jail cells and will also host the courts and court staff. This would not only allow for all Stevens County inmates to be kept in house but would likely allow the county to generate revenue helping other agencies.

The new facility would be located a block south of the existing courthouse, on land already owned by the county. It would replace the building currently used by the commissioners, who would relocate with their staff into the new space opened in the courthouse.


Sheriff Manke is estimating a total finished cost of $90-120 million and hopes the center would be up and running by 2027. To secure the funding needed, he is placing Propositions 1 and 2 on the November ballot.


Proposition 1 would authorize a sales and use tax of three-tenths of one cent per dollar on the price and/or value of certain articles, and Proposition 2 would authorize an additional one-tenth of one cent per dollar. Both are needed and collections for both would go to the new jail project and operations. The funding is split into two separate propositions due to laws governing the specific wording and amounts allowable.


If approved by voters, the propositions will increase the county sales tax from 7.6% to 8% and would equate to 40 cents for every $100 spent, or $40 per $10,000. The tax would not apply to groceries or vehicle sales/use tax.


“Stevens County has not seen any type of sales tax increase since 1996 and even with the proposed increase we will still have lower rates than what we pay to shop in Spokane,” writes Manke.


“I would really, really encourage taxpayers to vote Yes,” said Manke. “It would help us in law enforcement do our jobs. I’m tired of seeing our citizens victimized, especially by repeat offenders.”


Readers can find additional details about the tax proposals and jail design plans on the sheriff’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/stevenscountysheriff.