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Posted on: January 4, 2022

New Pilot Program Aims to Increase Court Appearances Through Rideshare, Cellphone Initiatives

SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. – The Spokane County region is the recipient of a $700,000 grant by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to continue building on efforts to safely reduce jail population, increase community engagement, and address racial and ethnic disparities. This funding brings the Foundation’s total investment in Spokane County to $4,450,000 million to date. The grant is part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, a national initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.

The award includes $50,000 in funding for a rideshare initiative and over $33,000 for a cell phone initiative. The Spokane region struggles with high failure to appear rates in court. A 2019 focus group conducted with currently incarcerated individuals in Spokane County identified reasons for missed court appearances, including lack of access to reliable transportation, lost court paperwork, conflicts with hourly work schedules, childcare conflicts, and mental health crises.  These pilot programs are designed to lower barriers to court access and participation, which will ultimately save taxpayer dollars and enhance individual stability in the community. 

Rideshare Initiative

Spokane County is partnering with Pioneer Human Services to provide free rides to criminal court appointments both for those facing criminal charges, as well as victims of crime. Individuals can access free rides by calling Pioneer Human Services Monday through Friday during regular business hours at: 509-934-3676. Pioneer Human Services will then connect the caller with an Uber Voucher to and from eligible appointments.  Eligible appointments include, but aren’t limited to: Criminal court hearings in Municipal, District, or Superior Courts – including Community Court and other therapeutic courts; Court ordered classes and/or testing; meetings with public defenders, probation officers, and/or pre-trial services officers.

Cell Phone Initiative

The grant also provides funding to provide free cell phones and data plans to indigent individuals facing active, local criminal charges.  Individuals can access free phones through their assigned attorney at the City Public Defender’s Office, or their County Pre-Trial Services Officer. If they don’t have a Pre-Trial Services Officer, they can seek a referral through their County Public Defender.  The phones come pre-loaded with relevant applications and contact numbers so individuals can stay in touch with their Public Defender, satisfy court-ordered requirements, and access helpful resources in the community, like housing, and behavioral health. 

Bridget Condon, Interim Director at the City Public Defender’s Office said, “Some of the biggest struggles people in the criminal justice system face are typically transportation and reliable phone services. It is extremely difficult to work with a lawyer, appear for court, attend treatment, and work with probation without a car or a phone. The free rideshare and cell phone program is incredible. It really allows people to have meaningful access to the justice system.  We are grateful for the MacArthur grant, because this program is making a direct positive impact for those with limited resources in the Spokane community.”

Maggie Yates, Regional Law and Justice Administrator for Spokane County, stated, “We are excited to collect data on the performance of these two programs in order to better understand how investments in individuals and resources can reduce the cost and consequences of a missed court date, while simultaneously improving safety and stability in the community. These sorts of solutions ultimately impact not only the individuals receiving the resources, but the broader community thanks to reduced costs across the criminal justice system and enhanced levels of safety in our neighborhoods.”

More information about these programs can be found at https://www.spokanecounty.org/4620/Spokane-Regional-Law-Justiceas well as on www.SafetyandJusticeChallenge.org.


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