Criminal justice proposals presented to public

ARLINGTON The Snohomish County Blue Ribbon Commission on Criminal Justice Priorities received relatively sparse attendance at their Nov. 29 public meeting in the Arlington City Council chambers. Nonetheless, commission member Kit Wennersten and Snohomish County Council member John Koster explained the commissions proposals for meeting the criminal justice needs of the communities within the county.
Among the proposals Wennersten touched on were a comprehensive criminal justice program, comprehensive mental health and chemical dependency programs, a dedicated domestic violence court, a new county criminal justice center, prosecuting attorney caseload standards, and collaboration with existing Department of Corrections programs. Koster noted that not all of these proposals are necessarily mutually exclusive.
The comprehensive criminal justice program, or peoples concept, focuses on prevention, treatment, enforcement and incarceration. Among its highlights would be nurses to work with single mothers, a street drug crimes unit working 365 days a year, staff for local neighborhood action teams, increased drug and alternative courts, and alcohol, tobacco and other drug professionals working in school districts, as well as new mental health facilities and additional funding for mental health community services.
The peoples concept would be funded through a six-year temporary property tax levy, of $65-$82 annually for a $250,000 home. Wennersten noted these dollars could be used to secure matching federal funds, and that a temporary lid could enable voters to measure and evaluate the programs effectiveness prior to requesting its continuation.
The comprehensive mental health and chemical dependency programs would include a therapeutic court, an adult triage center, chemical dependency and short-term mental health treatments for the uninsured, an enhanced drug court, a community team and youth outreach, and parenting and hosting programs.
Wennersten explained that the Washington State Legislature already authorized a .0001-percent sales tax for mental health programs and activities in 2005, so these programs would not require county-generated funds. They would require a therapeutic court and new or expanded chemical dependency and mental health treatment service programs.
The dedicated domestic violence court would focus on providing a continuity of service to victims and offenders, through improved monitoring, dedicated judiciary and prosecution teams, compliance tracking and a consistency of intervention and response. Wennersten admitted that funding information for this proposal is not currently available.
The new justice center proposes to replace existing justice facilities to resolve deficiencies and improve response to growing community needs. Wennersten elaborated that current facilities have no separate circulation corridors for public, inmates, staff and judges, nor do they have emergency communications or a public address system. He went on to categorize the entrance screening lobby as inadequate and unsafe, and add that only three courtrooms have secure holding facilities.
The new justice center would include additional courtrooms, space for additional court clerks, prosecutors, sheriffs and other staff, expansion of the jury assembly and public waiting areas, the ability to expand jail capacity on the county campus, and the ability to accommodate programs and services to support the activities of the courts, including those associated with drug courts and similar programs. It would also provide confidential meeting and interview rooms for citizens, attorneys, social workers and other social service providers. Wennersten could not offer any cost data, but estimated that this proposal would likely be funded through voter-approved bonds.
At the end of the meeting, Wennersten and Koster solicited attendees input through a survey rating the proposals, and asking the public to explain their own priorities for criminal justice within the county.

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