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Jan. 24, 2021

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Nonprofits’ letter to Clark County justice officials urges more action on jail population

Organizations make eight recommendations to reduce number of inmates at facility

By , Columbian Breaking News Reporter

Prior to Wednesday’s jail work session, a coalition of nonprofit groups — American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, Columbia Legal Services, Disability Rights Washington, NAMI Southwest Washington and Washington Defender Association — penned a letter urging Clark County to maintain a low inmate population.

The letter makes eight recommendations to reduce the inmate population.

“These alternatives, discussed below, will reduce the jail population without risking public safety. The alternatives will also save the county’s precious tax dollars for essential services in a time when public budgets are projected to fall dramatically,” the letter reads.

The organizations said that two Corrections Facility Advisory Commission recommendations should be implemented prior to the expansion of the jail’s capacity or starting inter-local jail services contracts: Reduce warrantless arrest and booking, and expand the use of summons for initial court appearances; and expand and encourage the use of automated text message court reminders and reduce the number of warrants issued for missed court dates.

The commission met for 18 months over 2018 and 2019 to examine the Clark County Jail’s design, capacity and services, and to provide recommendations.

The five other steps presented that could also reduce pretrial population at the jail include focusing the use of available pretrial supervision resources, changing the time of initial appearance to the afternoon and promoting the dismissal or pre-arrest diversion of cases arising from behavioral health issues.

The final recommendation listed in the letter is to establish a county public defender office. Unlike every other county in the state with a population over 100,000, Clark County provides indigent defense services in Superior Court through a contract system with over 30 individual attorneys and firms.

“While there may be a small increase in costs initially to establish an internal public defense office, or an external nonprofit public defense agency, the county would see broader savings in decreased jail population and quicker resolution of cases,” the letter states.

Clark County Jail Chief Ric Bishop and county councilors acknowledged the letter’s recommendations during the work session and commented that they need to be taken seriously.