Taxpayer advocacy is a critical issue for our Coalition, for it starts and ends with the decision to incarcerate and punish a person at a high cost to the taxpayers and the community, or with the decision to do a “correction” that allows a person the opportunity to change course and learn how to work in community for the overall improvement of the community – at far less cost to the taxpayers.
This is one of the three prime directives of our Restorative Community Coalition – for this is where all issues intersect. Therefore, we have done alot of work in the following areas, and each of these sections will expand as we have time to post it to this page.
- Direct Advocacy: We work directly with people who have come to us in extreme injustice situations where we do a form of restorative justice or intervention or ombudsmanship work to help them find a resolution to their issues.
- Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force (IPRTF) – Irene Morgan, our Founder and Secretary is serving a 2 year term to help our County navigate through the seas of change as we move to repair the community from the afteraffects caused by a government that was engaged in mass incarceration activities.
- Jail Reform: From doing the deep research into the systemic failures of our economy as it relates to over-criminalization, we wrote the book called Stop Punishing Taxpayers, Start Rebuilding Community. This report is a synposis of what it will take to rebuild our economy, our youth, our communities from the bottom up. It is essentially lead by the willingness to do jail reform in our political/bureaucratic world; and that changes the nature of how we do business. It raises the question of where tax money is directed…will it go to historically awarded government contracts that are national vendors? Or will it be redirected into local sustainable non-profits, small businesses and cooperatives? Which changes everything else.
- PDC Investigations: There was an investigation opened by the Public Disclosure Commission looking into whether the Whatcom County Jail Sales Tax Mailer was legal and congruent with state laws, how this relates to alleged civil rights violations, and to a complaint filed regarding “noble cause corruption” as our Coalition experienced the process of the tax being pushed to the voters without a needs assessment. The PDC found that Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws was in violation of state law, and was fined accordingly.
- Prison ID Issues:
Since 2010 our Coalition has been working on the Washington State level to get the Department of Corrections to issue an official and legal identification when people exit the prison system. Right now they exist with a newly created “Offender Badge” that does not serve the citizen at all, and it makes it difficult for people to successfully reenter society. This project is moving forward with a pilot project at the DOC.
- Restorative Economics:
There are dozens of ways that people with criminal records could get back into the mainstream so they are employable, and there are ways that our local community can benefit when that happens. It is our goal to create multiple projects and bridges to demonstrate how it can be done using ingenuity and cooperative businesses.
- Restorative Justice Education and implementation:
We have been working with and teaching (hands-on by doing it) restorative justice principles with individual people, across the community with different groups, within our school system, with different organizations and community groups, as well as with several different departments within the government.Our work is now showing up in statistics and trends, for we are getting results over time. One example is the chart we just got from the Superintendent of Schools where he has been able to track the results of some of our work with them, as they have expanded from one level into the next of implementing the models further and further into their school district successfully.
- Whatcom County Jail Expansion and Sales Tax issue – We have been working to replace the practices of mass incarceration in our community with principles and practices of restorative justice, rehabilitation, intervention, mental health and addiction recovery, prevention services instead. As our Executive Branch continued to do the Environmental Impact Statement processes to build an oversized jail without a Needs Assessment, we realized we had to get real visible in the matter. They spent over $3 million in planning and $7 million on land at an exhorbitant price to drive their plan to the voters. Along the way, we learned how to stand up and speak out effectively.
- We called for accountability regarding the 2004 and 2008 sales taxes that were earmarked to solve the problem, but were not used in a way that got street relevant results.
- We testified before the County Council, before City Councils, at EIS process hearings, at the Jail Task Force – asking over and over again for a Needs Assessment, reviewing the studies and giving constructive feedback, assuming that it would be included in the process.
- We asked for information, clarification and reviews of the EIS, the DEIS, the SDEIS, the FEIS…for accuracy of information about the needs, for fiscal feasibility studies, for public hearings on alternative economic options. The information was not included, and no public hearings were held on alternatives to building a jail. Instead, they adopted the language of alternatives to jail to pretend we meant alternatives after jail and claimed they were exceptional at doing work release and other programs.
- We asked for answers to the hundreds of citizen concerns expressed during the process. Most were never answered. We were denied inclusion of our information…all common sense alternative solutions to building a large jail that would reduce the demand for jail bed space. Over and over we spoke at 3 minute intervals where it was part of the meeting process, and over and over it was denied.
- Ultimately we had to stand up and demand a public hearing, ask for investigations, write a large number of letters to seven city mayors, to the Tribal Chairs, to many others to finally get one small public hearing. Then we had to do deep research, write and publish investigative reports, do endless Facebook and email letters, discussions and meetings with groups and officials to develop a movement to stop the jail tax.
- We had to write the book on jail reform. In fact it had to become part of advocacy movement to inform taxpayers during the sales tax initiative campaign. We had to develop the models of restorative economics. We met for many hours with different members of the community and encouraged the County Council to create the IPRTask Force; the City of Bellingham Council members into not confirming the Interlocal Agreement and to look for alternatives. Fortunately they listened, and this movement is well underway.
- Noble Cause Corruption: Ultimately we have discovered that a condition called “noble cause corruption” may be the issue that we have been facing in our community. It is a condition where people in authority such as top law enforcement or prosecutors become so used to wielding power for a ‘noble cause’ (such as public safety) that they start acting above the law to achieve their ends.In this case the illusion that public safety is achieved through increased incarceration (in spite of plenty of evidence to the contrary) supersedes doing due diligence and due process regarding examining alternative ways to produce public safety. Our Coalition believes that our Executive Branch and our community will discover that building a jail at the cost of economic devastation, and railroading citizens, and manipulating the process of law is counterproductive to public safety. That issue is pending with the outcome of the PDC investigation referenced above.