SPOKANE – Smart Justice Spokane Coalition is extremely concerned about racial inequities in the recent jail releases during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Spokane County/City officials have failed to take action to address systemic racism in the justice system leaving African Americans, Indigenous, Latinx, and non-English speakers behind as they are rapidly reducing the population of the jail. We agree that time is of the essence however we must include people of color,” said Curtis Hampton, co-chair of the Executive Committee of Smart Justice Spokane and member of Spokane Community Against Racism and the Racial Equity Committee of the Spokane Regional Law & Justice Council. “Smart Justice Spokane demands that racial inequities be addressed immediately.”

Public health officials have repeatedly warned that the only way to flatten the curve and to save countless lives is to immediately release incarcerated people, most of whom are awaiting trial and presumed innocent. Several are serving sentences for petty and other low-level offenses. Many have pre-existing medical conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to the virus, while others are elderly and frail. Today, each of them is facing the possibility of a death sentence.

A letter from Smart Justice Spokane called for nine immediate actions to ensure racial equity in jail release decisions as public health protection during this crisis. The full letter is here.

Smart Justice Spokane calls on elected leaders to carry out necessary emergency orders and smart justice reforms only while applying a racial equity lens. Equal protection under the law is not happening when the results show disparities along the fault line of race.

The Burns Institute and the Vera Institute of Justice have both documented disparities in people of color being detained and confined pre-trial in Spokane County.

In Spokane County in 2014 for every 1 White adult detained
● 7.1 Black adults were detained
● 1.7 Latino adults were detained
● 6.2 Native American adults were detained

In addition, a separate report from the Burns Institute, documented higher bail amounts being given to Native and Black men. While these reports are pre-pandemic, there is no data to show that these disparities have changed. In fact, the case review criteria and subsequent releases are most likely exacerbating the existing disproportionality, resulting in people of color remaining in incarceration at even higher disproportional percentages.

“The topic and urgency of racial equity is not new. The Spokane NAACP, Spokane Community Against Racism, Tenants Union of Washington, Peace and Justice Action League, Greater Spokane Progress, and other members of the Smart Justice Spokane coalition have persistently voiced the issue of ongoing and unaddressed racial disparities throughout the justice system in Spokane County,” stated Kurtis Robinson, President, Spokane NAACP. “We know the historical patterns are to leave out or ignore those most marginalized and vulnerable. Unfortunately, this has historically tended to be our communities of color. We are calling on the Spokane Mayor’s Office, Spokane City Council, Spokane Valley Mayor and City Council and all Eastern Washington municipalities and government institutions (this includes the Spokane County Commissioners and the courts), to ensure that these trends are not repeated in this most crucial time and in the times to come.”

As of April 13, 2020 the Spokane County Jail population was 451 and Geiger population was 114. In contrast, in 2019, the average daily population in the County Jail and the Geiger Corrections Facility was 921. The jail population is at a historic low due to the recent releases during the pandemic, which shows what is possible. However, Smart Justice Spokane has received reports that Black, Native, and Latinx individuals have been and continue to remain disproportionately incarcerated at higher percentages.

Angel Tomeo Sam, Bail Disrupter with the Bail Project, stated, “We feel we’re up against the clock. Everyone deserves to be safe from the pandemic, and that isn’t possible when people of color are disproportionately left in jail as public health releases are happening.”

Smart Justice Spokane Executive Committee:
Terri Anderson, Tenants Union of WA
Curtis Hampton, Spokane Community Against Racism
Anne Martin, Greater Spokane Progress
The Rev. Rick Matters, Spokane Community Against Racism
Liz Moore, Peace & Justice Action League of Spokane
Carmen Pacheco-Jones, Living With Conviction
Kurtis Robinson, Spokane NAACP #1137 President
Cam Zorrozua, Attorney at Law

The Smart Justice Spokane campaign coalition:
ACLU/Washington · All Saints Lutheran Church · Center for Justice · Chihak & Associates – Disability Attorneys · Community Building Foundation · Community-Minded Enterprises · Fulcrum Institute Dispute Resolution Clinic · Greater Spokane Progress · KYRS/Thin Air Community Radio · League of Women Voters Spokane Area · NAMI Spokane – National Alliance on Mental Illness · Neighborhood Alliance of Spokane · Northwest Fair Housing Alliance · Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane · SEIU Heathcare 775 NW · Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund · Spokane Branch Unit 1137 NAACP · Spokane Center for Independent Living · Spokane Community Against Racism · Spokane Tribe of Indians ·Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane · University Legal Assistance, Gonzaga Law School · Washington Community Action Network · Washington Education Association, Eastern Washington · Washington NORML · Washington State Council of City & County Employees – Local 270 AFSCME