Re:  Stop Whatcom County Jail MisManagement – Fix the Jail Now!

By Joy Gilfilen, submitted to Whatcom County Council and Bellingham City Council 07-02-2017

Whatcom County’s self-proclaimed decade of expanding jail problems and constant crisis about overcrowding, accompanied by no self-correction, is defacto proof of “mismanagement.”  It’s time to stop.

Stop Crisis MisManagement* – No Excuses.

  1. Emergency conditions are self-inflicted, self-controlled, self-regulated and can be fixed immediately.
  2. Confirmed by Prosecutor/court, Sheriff/jail, Executive/admin and “jail builder/contractor” records.
  3. Under the direct control of: Prosecutor (1) – Sheriff (1) – Jail Chief (1) – Executives (2) – Deputy Executives (2) who interpret the rules (and make some); control contracts (write them) and then administer business, budgets, projects and flow to meet their own timelines and demands.
  4. Officials have legal ways to reduce the ‘crisis’ and fix the “catastrophic risk” problem, yet don’t.
  • The taxpayers have been paying (3) .1% sales taxes extra towards solutions – each tax worth 3 to 4 Million annually…starting with imposed .1% in 1999; approved .1% in 2004; approved .1% in 2008. Return on investment result?  Poor quality jail maintenance even as military style equipment, SWAT, fleets, armoring and technology to track people increases.
  • Taxpayers built a brand new medium security 150 bed jail for use by 2006. Instead of reducing crowding, jail industries expanded.  This increased the over-criminalizing and over-incarcerating of non-violent people even as statistical arrest trends for serious and juvenile crime was going down.
  • Whatcom County Code requires (and provides legal means) to reduce over-crowding.  Rather than use the rules, they instead violate these laws and doubled down by changing rules to restrict release.
    • “Good time” rules changed from 1/3rd to 1/6th early release (making people serve more time).
    • They add restrictions/change rules that made it harder to for people to qualify for good time
  • Constricted use of therapeutic courts against logic. When drug court was receiving awards for effectiveness, the Prosecutor changed rules to make it harder to enter, harder to graduate.

Reality Check: People are harmed daily on this watch, by those in responsible charge.

This is a jail, not a prison.  It is to hold short-term inmates, the public and the taxpayers safe.  In fact, the system has become a crossroads for corrections or condemnation. The assumption is that people arrested and accused have the right to be “innocent until proven guilty” – not punished at arrest.  These are local people from our community who will return to our community. Unfortunately, in Whatcom County consequences of an arrest have become both excessive and unnecessary.

  1. Results show there are suicides, brain damage, death, irreversible emotional trauma caused inside.
  2. An estimated 60-80% of those people inside the jail are non-violent and not yet convicted.
  3. An arrestee (and their families) have incurred hidden costs of $10,000 or more just for an arrest.
  4. Money is paid to the County, to attorneys, to private jail industry contractors (privateers), etc.
  5. Arrestees will accept plea bargains (even when “not guilty as charged”) just to get out of the system. Unknowingly this starts a chain of events that sparks a lifetime of continuous poverty and punishment inflicted by subsequent social, technological and bureaucratic ripple effects.

Grassroots Interception Required:  Lawmakers have an obligation to intervene.

Right now is the optimal point of maximum impact to make a course correction.  Before you pass any more taxes and provide a free ride to another level of mismanagement.  Right now is the only time to leverage your influence on behalf of taxpayers to establish true justice, liberty and freedom.

Everyone already knows that writing new jail use agreements does not solve the problem.  Getting mayors to agree to spend unapproved funds does not solve the problem.  Deflecting or denial does not solve the problem.  Buying and selling a new sales tax does not solve the problem.  Building a 3rd jail on 40 acres that has built-in plans to expand from 492 beds to 2400 beds and beyond does not solve the problem. Expanding the Sheriff’s headquarters to 2.5 acres doesn’t solve the problem.  Moving the jail outside of the County Seat does not solve the problem.  These are not the solutions. They are sales tactics.  Every one of these actions compounds the problem and creates escalating damage.

Solution:  Legislative Power obligates you to Stop Abuse.  Say NO.

  1. Stop Punishing. Stop punishing arrestees, families and employees who are in harm’s way. Stop punishing councils, public servants, and activists who have spent years in citizen defense. Stop punishing taxpayers.  Taxpayers are all of us who pay the bills that support the government.  Taxpayers sit at the top of the Whatcom County organizational chart.  We said No in 1997.  They invoked a tax in 1999 anyway.  So we passed taxes in 2004 and 2008.  It got worse. We finally said NO again in 2015.
  2. Intervene.  Declare a vote of “No Confidence” in a flawed plan.  Demand better.  Demand facts, assessments, better options – then crosscheck for truth.  Challenge allegations that “one big expandable jail in the county is the only option”. Ask the Executive to prove their recommendation and their alleged “Needs Assessment” in a transparent public hearing. Let the public examine the facts for validity, logic and relevancy to current conditions.  492 beds is not a “compromise.”  It is a green light to the Sheriff to use the pod design to expand to 2400 beds the instant the forever sales tax is authorized.
  3. Course Correct. Fix the jail immediately.  Get out of chaos, out of crisis. Just say NO to the idea that only taxes and new jails fix mismanagement.  That is illogical.  It doesn’t work.   

Action 1:  Fix the Jail!  Take URGENT Emergency Management Action

Priority #1:  Stop Hemorrhaging. Fix the inhumane conditions in the jail.

No excuses. People are being harmed on your watch. Assume no new money, no new tax. Convene an emergency team of County, City and Public representatives to do one thing:  Correct the inhumane conditions in both Jail #1 and Jail #2 immediately. Use the Design2Last recommendations for immediate physical guidance.  Assess all hands on deck, all resources and all facilities available for use.  Examine using Division Street differently, use South Campus, the old Pioneer Services building on Irongate, move the Sheriff into the Emergency Operations Facility at the airport, facilitate non-profits to bring ideas forward to expand safe and sane housing, open vacant buildings for community services, empower volunteer reentry mentoring, implement restorative justice solutions, (list is long).  Invite new service providers to open dual diagnosis facilities. Allow creativity and grassroots solutions.

Priority #2:  Constrict Inflow.  Implement high OFN/high ROI corrections ASAP.   

Identify all emergency solutions that come from Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force (IPRTF) members such as judges, public defenders, staff, and from non-profit and citizen representatives who are working in the field.  Rate implementation by Optimal Frugal Need (OFN) – what is the least cost/highest impact action that will get the highest return on investment for money and time spent, that is within your immediate control?  1) Highest Impact/High Control is at point of first contact.  Whenever possible use prevention tools with officers/non-profit discretion to support trauma interception, intervention, diversion, and restorative justice tools ASAP.  Use OFN to stop people from entering the jail in the first place.  2) Highest Control/High Impact: Expedite administrative actions at OFN inside system with inmates and courts to reduce ALS (average length of stay). This de-escalates trauma and reduces costs everywhere.  3) High Impact/Lower Control: Provide Exit options (at OFN) for low risk/non-violent people ASAP. Consider using restorative circles and restorative justice to reduce fines and restore people to wholeness.  Provide ReEntry OFN support to reduce recidivism rate.

Action 2:  Examine Legal and Systems Options – Adjust and Correct Flaws

Priority #3:  Fix System Failures.  Use facts to correct local law and justice system.   

Use the VERA Institute’s statistical analysis of the recently delivered jail facts and historical data to understand your clients, your law enforcement arrest patterns, jailing patterns, identify criminal justice trends to see problem areas that can be improved.  Make course corrections. Overlay with the 38 administrative mapping issues that help the IPRTF to make smart, evidence based internal, legal and administrative corrections to yield better results for law enforcement, the courts and the taxpayers. Make course corrections.

Priority #4:  Local Justice Reform: Do a Market Study & Social Costs Impact Analysis

Most policymakers, law enforcers, and court staff in charge of administering the law enforcement, justice and private jail industry support systems do not know the consequences of an arrest on a person, on the family, and on the community in today’s world.  For policymakers to make smart choices for the future, it is essential that we acknowledge and examine the negative, hidden impacts of market forces that have changed the entire landscape and context of corrections.  Then find new emerging solutions, and create plans to correct and mitigate in ways that support public safety and empowerment.

Example:  A college student arrested in Whatcom County often incurs $10,000 or more in damages by the arrest alone.  It can change their entire career, causing loss of funding, inability to enter certain fields.  Even if found not-guilty, the compound unintended consequences of just a ticket being written, or an arrest going in the newspaper, can irrationally condemn the person to a lifetime of poverty, persecution and punishment that is way out of proportion to the original violation.   This serves no one.

Think about it:  What is the cost of losing a 20 year old into the incarceration funnel?  Simple math shows that if they go into it on and off for 40 years x $50,000/yr = $2 Million per person in tax losses.  Add in the social costs at a multiplier factor of 11x = total costs is $22 Million dollars to the taxpayers and family having to pay for it.

We could instead train them at a blue collar job or at Harvard, and recover our investment millions of times over if we did it differently.  Obviously something is wrong with this picture.  One investment destroys, one empowers.  We can start to empower people locally at a fraction of this cost.

We have the ingenuity locally to create a new business operating model for managing corrections and incarceration.  We can review all contracts and make smart business corrections that help redirect taxpayer dollars back into the local market so the community gets the benefit of reinvestment multipliers.  Divest from co-dependence on international jail contractor industries by using local food, practitioner and service providers. Rebuild the community business model so it is local focused, regenerative, and responsive to local needs and conditions.

Action 3:   Do a True Needs Assessment, Fiscal Analysis, and Market SWOT Analysis.

Then you will have a basis upon which to talk to the taxpayers about a raise.  Or maybe at that point we will all know if there can be more systems reductions.  Until then, it is a waste of time.  Taxpayers said no.  No means NO.  No more excuses.  No more taxes.  We need help to fix the jail. We need leaders to step forward now.

*Facts and statements can be verified by examination of public records and documents.  They are available via sources such as:  Whatcom County public records, through minutes of Whatcom County Council, in the Final Environmental Impact Statement process from 2010-2013, in the Incarceration Prevention & Reduction Task Force minutes, audios and handouts, in Bellingham City Council public records, in the Noble Cause Corruption documents filed with the Public Disclosure Commission on April 27, 2016 and currently accessible online in articles called the Illusion of Inclusion series written by Juliette Daniels, and by other investigative writers such as Tip Johnson, David Camp at NorthwestCitizen.com, and from extensive filings by the RestorativeCommunity.com.