The Spokane County Jail has stopped providing dozens of copies of Spokane’s daily newspaper for inmates, ending a decades-long practice after the jailers union complained the newspaper poses a “security risk.”
Andy Jennings, a corrections deputy and president of the correctional officers union, Local 492, requested the policy change in a memo to jail officials last month.
Jennings told The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review that the 156 corrections deputies he represents have become concerned that the newspaper contains too much personal information, including names and addresses of corrections officers and local patrol officers and pending legal charges against the incarcerated.
“This was brought to my attention by quite a few staff,” Jennings said, without mentioning any specific examples.
The Spokesman-Review said it rarely publishes the home addresses or other personal details about law enforcement officers.
The newspaper has written about several serious incidents in the jail this year, including the Jan. 29 death of inmate Benites Sichiro after a fight with guards. The county medical examiner ruled Sichiro’s death a homicide.
The jail’s Inmate Welfare Fund Board said The Spokesman-Review should be canceled “due to the security risk it is posing for law enforcement staff and other inmates.”
Undersheriff Jeff Tower said the decision “wasn’t my call” and that there were other factors that led to the cancellation.
Because the jail is seriously overcrowded, inmates are locked down much of the time and are spending far less on phone calls and commissary purchases, Tower said. Phone calls and commissary purchases are both sources of revenue for the Inmate Welfare Fund, which is supposed to be used for benefits to inmates.
The Inmate Welfare Fund board unanimously approved the newspaper suspension at its Aug. 15 meeting. Jail officials voting for the change included Lt. Mike Sparber; Sgt. Bev Mickelson and Sgt. Don Hooper. Public Defender Mark Lorenz missed the meeting, but said he would have voted against dropping the newspaper.
Spokane County Public Defender John Rodgers, head of the agency that represents many poor jail inmates, decried the move.
“We stick guys in jail and cut off their outside contact. Why can’t we let them know what’s going on? It’s an insidious process of creating a permanent underclass,” Rodgers said.
Teachers in the jail’s GED program have complained about the dropped newspaper, said Deputy Douglas Gossard of the jail’s library services division.
Jail officials initially considered subscribing to a national newspaper such as USA Today, but ended up unanimously rejecting any newspaper, moving the $5,000 previously spent for newspaper subscriptions to the $30,000 inmate clothing allowance.
Jail officials decided if an inmate wants to buy the local paper, “he/she could do so out of their own pocket,” according to minutes of the welfare fund board meeting.
Roger Hotrum, a convicted burglar serving time at the jail, said he was preparing a formal grievance and will ask the jail command to reinstate the newspaper.