In your Oct. 14 article on the overcrowded conditions at the Thurston County Corrections Facility (TCCF), Sheriff John Snaza outlines efforts to build a new jail. Disability Rights Washington is working with the county on jail conditions and applauds their transparency and efforts. People — especially those with mental illness — are suffering at TCCF.
The article failed to ask why the jail population is so high and offered no alternative solutions. Many people in our jails do not need to be there. For example, a person with serious mental illness who is charged with a misdemeanor often does not require detention and will actually do worse if jailed.
Perhaps the police who arrested this person should have considered alternatives. This requires investment in community mental health and training for police. Perhaps the prosecutor who first reviewed the case should have analyzed the need for prosecution versus possible diversion. A recent report commissioned by Thurston County to assess its criminal justice system noted the widespread belief that the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office (TCPO) overcharges people. The TCPO lacks charging guidelines and does not keep data on its charging practices. Finally, perhaps the judge who set bail, virtually ensuring a jail stay, should have considered how ineffective and harmful cash bail can be.
Certainly there are jails that are too small for the population they serve. But, when confronting the widespread problem of overcrowding in Washington’s jails, we must first ask ourselves why we are jailing so many people in the first place.
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(Mosolf is the attorney for Disability Rights Washington)