Editor note: Barry Buchanan is the Chair of both the Whatcom County Council and the Stakeholder Advisory Committee.
I would like to take this opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences on the Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) for the Whatcom County jail. My understanding was that the County Council created this committee to discern the needs and wants of the community at large and would then use those discoveries to develop requirements for jail facilities in Whatcom County. To a significant degree, the SAC has not achieved the council’s stated goals.
In your recent presentation to council, you said an implementation team would continue SAC’s work, defining requirements based on the SAC report. I would strongly encourage everyone to read, review, and consider this report. It is supposed to be an attempt to capture our community’s priorities for our justice system into the future. And while I believe it is possible to get from where we are to where we need to be in the next year, I have concerns about this report. For this reason, and the shortcomings I will outline below, I voted against the SAC Final Report.
SHORTCOMINGS OF THE EFFORT
From the beginning, the committee was dominated by the two-thirds of its members who are currently involved in our justice infrastructure. It would seem they have had ample time and opportunity to provide input to and/or make changes to our current circumstances. This group has also been less inclined to aid in the process of discovering the needs and wants of the public.
As one of a handful of outsiders, and in order to do my job, I needed information: (1) What is currently being done; (2) What are the needs and wants of the public; and (3) Nationally, what are the best practices and root causes we are discovering. There were a few attempts at collecting diverse and lived experience, but I would not say that goal was achieved. I was one of the few members representing any sort of racial diversity. Frankly, I discovered much more about lived experience as it relates to our county's justice system in one 30-minute meeting hosted by the Restorative Community Coalition (RCC) in January of this year.
There have been two official surveys and an ad-hoc survey. One official survey focused on SAC members, the other on community members reviewing the goals of the SAC members. There was no official survey that focused on discovery from the community at large. Rather, SAC wanted to identify points of high-level consensus and agreement. My concern is that maximizing consensus unintentionally minimizes discovery.
The ad-hoc survey was led by a volunteer and SAC member. This survey asked questions of jail inmates as well as the staff. Ironically, this ad-hoc survey produced the most valuable input for me. The dominant message was that inmates were, first and foremost, looking for support services that focused on their actual needs, as well as supportive infrastructure, and especially housing to support re-entry.
On the other hand, SAC members who have been involved with the jail consistently referred to the jail’s physical conditions. There was no analysis of the physical plant or why it had been so poorly maintained. Was the poor maintenance an inherent aspect of the facility, or just a lack of resources being applied to maintenance?
GETTING ON TRACK
The good news is that we can still do the work we need to do. We don't need to rush to undertake a jail tax levy. We can still conduct a study to determine the needs and wants of the public. We can also still review and revise the VERA Institute of Justice Report to Whatcom County. These are measures I called for two years ago, and again one year ago. This will give us a much better feel for where we actually are as a community in relation to best practices and root causes of incarceration nation wide. It will also provide greater visibility into the unique challenges of our community. We should also review the work of other groups, like the Prison Policy Institute, that are working nationally to advance our understanding of an effective justice system.
Concurrently, we can allocate the jail taxes that have already been levied on our citizens to develop and fund re-entry programs, and deliver training and services while people are still incarcerated so they can begin the process of re-entry before they are released. We can develop pre-trial support and advocacy services that will bolster and augment the public defenders role. We can develop educational programming via Zoom, both inside and outside the jail. We can fully fund and resource programs like GRACE, LEAD, Drug Court, Court Navigators, Bail Reform, Mental Health Court, Alternate Response Teams, and Emergency Housing.
We have to embrace the responsibility of public safety as our responsibility rather than that of the justice system. In my opinion, grabbing people and throwing them away is like throwing a boomerang that comes back bigger and uglier. The justice system we have created is a complex maze of processes and procedures that are typically insensitive to the actual needs and advancement of the individuals caught in the system.
Atul Deshmane, Laurel
Comments by Readers
Tip JohnsonFeb 24, 2023
The County has never considered adding to the existing jail the two additional stories it was built to support. The structural engineering report that described the jail as well built and founded on bedrock has disappeared from County archives.
The County cited two jail planning documents in their rational for a big, flat, rural jail. both documents, one from the Department of Justice, the other from the National Institute of Corrections, both say that the jail is ideally located next to the courthouse and that the savings of a low rise jail in an outlying location will soon be outstripped by the cost of transportation and additional security getting to and from the courts.
The land speculation shenanigans at and around the LaBounty Rd site are worthy of investigation. My suspicion is that after the big, flat, rural jail is built, it’s beneficiaries will opine the same as the cited documents: that the jail should be nearer the courthouse, and the courthouse - which, unlike the jail, has some serious structural problems - will be abandoned and the county seat moved to Ferndale, enriching a cabal of folks that have been working this angle for years.
It is criminal to have intentionally allowed the jail to deteriorate into inhumane conditions.
I recommend searching this site for other articles about the jail, as with .
Michael ChiavarioFeb 24, 2023
Excellent analysis and adherence to your principles, Atul. Thank you.
Steve HarrisFeb 24, 2023
Just an FYI - Did you know that the adult jail used PRIOR to the current jail is still being used as a detention facility (albeit for juveniles, not adults). It’s on the 6th floor of the current courthouse built between 1948-1950….think about it. Has anyone heard a single concern about incarcerating children in the former adult jail, in a building constructed over 70 years prior to current building and seismic codes? How is it possible that it isn’t coated in black mold with faulty elevators? Perhaps maintenance is a factor?
Carol FollettFeb 25, 2023
Do you know that the USA is second only to China in the number of people it incarcerated last year?!
“At the end of 2022, China [an undemocratic, oppressive regime with a much higher population than ours] had the highest number of incarcerated individuals worldwide, with almost 1.7 million [170,000,000] people in prison. It was followed by the United States with around 25,000 fewer prisoners [1.6998 million] Brazil followed in third.”
Our “justice” system is not just. Like so many evils, it is about money and power. We have all by now, I hope, read about the notorious post reconstruction laws created in the south to reconstitute slavery. Those laws continued to morph into the “war on drugs” that filled prisons and prison industry coffers. It costs the public more to send a person through the prison system than it would to send them through an ivy league college to earn a Ph.D.!
A couple of things to think about while we talk about our local incarceration topics:
Incarceration is a profitable industry that lobbies for its interests to keep beds occupied.
“The prison industrial complex also includes companies that sell goods and services at inflated prices to incarcerated people and companies that pay low or no wages for prison labor. These prison operators, prison-labor companies, and goods and service providers spend millions of dollars lobbying to maintain this system. That effort in and of itself suggests that profit is a stronger motivator for private prisons than keeping communities safe or rehabilitating those who have committed crimes.”
Creating criminal offences provides cheap, unregulated labor.
“In 2021, an estimated 791,500 incarcerated people worked in US prisons as part of their sentences in 2021, often without basic workplace protections and under dangerous working conditions for little to no pay, according to a June report by the American Civil Liberties Union and the University of Chicago Law School’s Global Human Rights Clinic.”
Now, please may we know who stands to profit and is most represented in this debate about our jail?
What examples do we have of systems that have been able to reduce the number of criminal actions in their communities as well as have the least recidivism (while retaining their humanity)?
Steve WilsonFeb 25, 2023
Atul’s letter is the most cogent post in NW Citizen for a long time. I would encourage him to submit it to other local media, especially Cascadia Daily News. Thanks Atul!
Jon HumphreyFeb 27, 2023
Every time the jail issue comes up, I remind everyone that in this day and age especially technological means exist that make a new jail totally unnecessary. Even if you want to incarcerate more people, many technological options exist for home detention. The jail is just another extension of a predatory power elite class trying to take our money and give it to special interests for infrastructure we simply don’t need.
Other examples include:
1. Overpriced student housing built by private interests that should have been built by WWU instead.
2. Unaffordable housing in general owned by the power elite who keep raising the taxes, rents and mortgage amounts associated with that housing using the most unfair, and made up, system possible, “Fair Market Value.”
3. Building new, non-green, structures in general that don’t even meet the LEED Gold or better standard for green buildings. Like new schools while cutting staffing at schools. For example, while the state is cutting funding for the staff students really need like para-educators and teachers, they are planning on building new schools. So, they have enough money for buildings but not teachers and other educational professionals? It’s because they don’t care about the quality of education and giving kids the tools they need to have good careers and stay out of jail. They just want to line the pockets of predatory developers for buildings we don’t need. Jails we don’t need, schools we don’t need, overpriced housing, the list goes on.
All of this is part of a trend to steal from the public and give the money to a select few at the top.
However, Atul says here that we can use Zoom as an option. Still, Atul and the Shewmake Cartel have gone out of their way to sabotage real progress on public broadband. Fiber to the home connections will be necessary to support home detention, restorative justice efforts, and more. So where is Atul’s magical network that supports home incarceration and other restorative justice measures going to come from? Well, not the Corporate Democrats apparently. What do we see instead?
1. While the Port is doing a bit with broadband a sick part of their plan is ultimately to GIVE THE INFRASTRUCTURE TO PREDATORY PRIVATE COMPANIES after having the public pay for it. Satpal himself has indicated that he is NOT interested in building real infrastructure, but instead in “getting people connected at a base level.” Since Nielsen’s Law tells us that our need for bandwidth grows by 50% every year, this means that Satpal wants to give our money away to private interests for obsolete connections in a corporate welfare scam. But hey, so does Todd Donovan, Ken Bell, Sharon Shewmake, Alex Ramel, Christine Grant, etc.
2. Speaking of Corporate Welfare scams, the PUD plans on starting any public power program with a big corporate welfare handout to PSE for literally obsolete infrastructure that they will then spend the next 15 years fixing. Will we get green power? They have no real plan for this. Will we get more reliable power? They plan on keeping most of the infrastructure aerial even though poorer towns than us have gone underground and our main loss of power is associated with vegetation falling on power lines, high winds effecting them, etc. So, in short no. It’s just another corporate welfare scam at a time when we need real improvements. Just like the jail.
All we know for sure is that under the Corporate Democrats plan public power will cost more and will being with a corporate welfare handout to PSE for obsolete infrastructure.
So while Atul is right here that the last thing the public needs is a new jail, we also have to consider the source. Atul and his fake progressive comrades have made no real progress in giving us the infrastructure we need for a modern civilization that can support programs like home detention or the new next generation jobs needed to keep people off of the streets and make them less vulnerable in the first place. They are too busy stealing from us and lining the pockets of predatory developers, PSE, and big telecom too. So, while they may not want a jail, it’s obvious that they don’t want to help us build a civilization that provides real opportunities and keeps people off of the streets and out of jail in the first place either. The MO of our elected officials is to take our tax money and give it away to the power elite. That’s all a new jail really is. A way for our corrupt elected officials to steal money from us and put it in the pockets of their predatory developer friends instead of give us real progress.
Dianne FosterMar 02, 2023
I agree with Tip that putting 2 more stories on the existing jail would be the most efficient solution. Every day in the Herald I read about some jerk who molests children being busted, and I’m quite happy they’re in jail. In fact, they should throw away the key!
Jon HumphreyMar 03, 2023
Yes Dianne, I think it’s safe to agree on the fact that some people that are in jail DEFINATELY need to be in there. However, the argument for expanding or building a new jail still fails in the face of facts.
With fewer than 40% of inmates being guilty of violent crimes that leaves over 60% that don’t need to be in jail.
That means that the current prison is fine and we don’t need to spend obscene amounts of money expanding it or building a new one especially in the modern age with technological options like home detention available. Assuming our fake progressives ever build the fiber-optic network we need to improve quality of life county-wide for everyone, especially young women going into STEM fields, our options for everything including home detention increase. But we all know that the Shewmakes are all about saying they care about the community and then doing nothing useful. Especially if it costs their big money donors money.
So what has the prison push always been about? Lining the pockets of our sociopathic “leaders” and their dirtbag big money donors. At $35,000 per prisoner, or more, a year there’s big money in putting people in jail. Big money that the Shewmake cartel and their good Republican friends can line the pockets of wealthy investors with by building a new, unnecessary, jail. You know, like Rick Larsen does when he takes all of that money for nukes from Lockheed. He cares about women and families, that’s why he wants to nuke them remember…. And that’s why Sharon and the Shewmake cartel support him. Because they’re apparently “pro-war and pro-family” LOL.
Anyway, that’s all this is about. It’s not about keeping people safe. It never has been. It’s not about reform, that doesn’t happen in American jails. It’s about another predatory development project that benefits the mega-wealthy being passed off as a public necessity. It’s not!
One of the arguments I heard from a co-workers with family working in the prison was, “not even all of the locks work at our jail.” As if locks can’t be fixed. They can.
I have taken apart and put back together about 3 homes and I can tell you that locks are easy to fix. Hell, if all I had to do was fix the locks and throw on a coat of paint I’d consider myself lucky. This fake “condition of the jail” argument is another example of the many idiotic arguments I hear for the fake need for a new jail. No need exists. The one we have is fine. Fix the locks and only lock up people that should be in there and we’d be fine. The mega-wealthy wouldn’t, since they want to steal from tax-payers via the jail, but the rest of us would.
Also, I’d love to see our scumbag “leaders” care as much about the condition our schools and housing as this stupid jail. Oh but Donnovan and Shewmake’s good buddies are building unaffordable town houses and condos that they’ll keep raising the rents and purchase prices on using made up systems like “fair market” value. You know, like landlords did right before the Irish Potato Famine, so we’re supposed to pretend like they’re working on it. LOL.
Dianne FosterMar 03, 2023
I have an Occupy friend who spent the night in jail for opposing the coal terminal. She said it was awful; very cold and damp. People who work there corroborate that story. What I remember was that it was built by some out-of-town group, then the bond moeny for repairs was stollen by a county council employee. i.e.. lots of corruption. The question is, (as V.I. Lenin once said), What is to be done?