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April 14, 2006 - Spokesman-Review (WA)

Test Program Lets Convicts Check In

Spokane County's 'Day Reporting' Requires 8 Hours Of Work, Education

By Jonathan Brunt, Staff writer

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

With the jail constantly overcrowded, Spokane County leaders are trying different ways to set lawbreakers on better paths.

The Spokane County District Court is one month into a 90-day experiment in "day reporting," an alternative to jail in which convicts must account for eight hours a day of their time with work or education. A judge determines if a person is eligible for the program.

"There's an emphasis on the defendant being a productive member of society," said Percy Watkins, co-director of the program. "When they're in jail, they can't work."

The program is open only to those who committed nonviolent and nonsexual misdemeanors. Almost all of those participating would have been sent to the Spokane County Jail or Geiger Corrections Center. Their crimes will remain on their records when they complete their sentences.

At the beginning of the year, county commissioners allocated $30,000 for a 90-day test of the day-reporting system. The program started March 20 with three defendants, said Barbara E. Miller, executive director of Friendship Diversion Services, an Olympia-based nonprofit agency that runs the county's day-reporting program.

As of this week, about 30 people are in the program. Those sent to day reporting must check in at an office at 1220 N. Howard St. and account for eight hours of their day Monday through Friday.

If they have jobs, work counts. If not, they must spend the time looking for a job, going to treatment such as Alcoholics Anonymous, or attending job training. Program employees assist the offenders in finding job and training opportunities. The rest of the day they are free.

Commissioners hoped the trial program would serve 25 convicts. By the end of the experiment May 20, Miller said, she expects to have had more than 50 in or through the system.

Day reporters are charged $1 to $20 a day, depending on their ability to pay. Miller said the system could be supported entirely by those in it, but that might take a while. She said she hopes commissioners will be able to fund the program for the remainder of the year at about $10,000 a month.

District Court Presiding Judge Sara Derr said the program is used only for those convicted of crimes in Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake and unincorporated Spokane County. However, Spokane and Cheney officials are considering the program, the judge said.

Derr said there are other day-reporting programs in the state, but most of those are more like high school detention, where convicts sit in a room for eight hours.

"They might as well be in jail," Derr said. But Spokane County's program does more than save the government money in jail costs, she said. It makes them more productive and less likely to commit another crime.

"We would like to see it be a permanent fixture," Derr said.

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