Northwest NEWS

April 10, 2000

Local News

Sims proposes adult justice master plan

   KING COUNTY--King County Executive Ron Sims released a work plan last week to prepare an adult justice operational master plan. The plan would improve the criminal justice system by controlling the growth of the inmate population, without costly construction and operation of additional jail space.

   The County is mandated by law to provide housing for felons and county misdemeanants. The County also contracts with most cities within the county to house city misdemeanants. The jail population increases as county population increases and as new laws and stricter penalties are adopted, Sims said.

   Criminal justice spending currently consumes more than 63 percent of King County's general fund budget. Without significant intervention, that figure will continue to increase, due to increasing demands on criminal justice agencies.

   Sims last year convened the Swift and Certain Justice Team of law, public safety, adult detention, and the courts to review criminal justice efficiencies. He said that a review of new laws and penalties, combined with alternative treatment and possible pricing incentives to limit jail stays are key steps toward reducing inmate populations.

   Sims' proposed Adult Justice Operating Master Planning process will examine a wide range of alternative sanctions and methods of supervision, and community-based treatment programs, as alternatives to jailing offenders who pose little or no risk to public safety.

   "Policies of the courts and law enforcement greatly affect the daily population of felony and misdemeanant defendants and offenders whose offenses are prosecuted under State statutes and County and city criminal ordinances," said Sims. "We are committed to working closely with officials whose codes, policies, and practices impact this population's growth.

   "I am confident our analyses and planning will demonstrate that system efficiencies--as well as development, expansion, and readaptation of lower cost community alternatives--will prevent the need to expand jail bed capacity."

   The approval for conducting an operational master plan study was made last year, and the Council requested a detailed outline of how the plan will be prepared. King County Councilmember Greg Nickels, chair of the Council's Law, Justice and Human Services Committee that will review the work plan and the products that result from it, said the effort "represents an intensive, collaborative, deliberative, objective, and rational process to assess and improve the Adult Justice System. We look forward to reviewing the work plan and working with the Executive. I believe that we can provide safe communities in King County using existing resources and prevention measures, not just by building more jails."

   The draft work plan will also be reviewed by criminal justice agencies throughout King County, by Seattle and suburban city officials, community advocacy groups, and non-governmental social service and treatment providers. The last justice operational master plan was completed in 1990. It resulted in a decision to construct the Regional Justice Center, now located in Kent.