The fetid stench of the incarceration industrial complex is once again filling the air. Within political minutes of Whatcom County announcing its intention to take a third try at a new jail bond, the sheriff announced he has shut down visitation at the jail because the elevators have quit working. Really?
Elevators work for a long time. The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, features two operational Otis elevators that were installed in 1895. An elevator from 1896 still works at the New Bedford City Hall in Massachusetts. Many from the early 1900s are still going; just google “oldest operational elevators.” So why did the jail’s fail?
It’s just bad maintenance. The sheriff has a longstanding policy of not spending money on the jail. He has often said he hates to throw good money after bad. He’s let it run down into inhumane conditions to justify his proposed, palatial new jail. What he really means is he wants more money—your money. And he doesn’t intend to go it alone. As early as 2008, Sheriff Elfo explained to a gathering of Democrats how contracts with DHS, ICE and INS could benefit the county through a new jail.
Like so much of the sheriff’s ongoing jail efforts, the elevator failure doesn’t pass the smell test. In fact, the new Cascadia Daily News recently reported that the county maintenance department got the elevators running in a couple hours. So will visitation resume? No way!
Instead, the sheriff and his new jail supporters will start their old refrains of a “crumbling building” and “outdated equipment.” It’s all humbug. The only thorough structural analysis of the building concluded it is structurally sound, founded on bedrock, and capable of supporting additional levels, for which the generator and other building systems were originally sized.
It’s not that it couldn’t be better, or that it doesn’t have some problems. But a $36 - $50 million upgrade will be less strain on taxpayers than $110 million for Elfo’s plan - and that’s just for phase one! Elfo might, far from prying eyes, want to play with the feds at his new, big, flat, rural jail, but both the NIC and DOJ guidance he cited for its rationale actually say the opposite: The best place for a jail is next to the courthouse. Elfo has never seriously considered this option.
In case readers are having trouble remembering, or keeping track of, the sheriff’s previous deceptions, many were outlined in “Whatcom Justice Reform: The Big Fib.”.If you care about your tax dollars, it’s worth your time to search this site for “Whatcom County Jail” or “New Jail,” because citizens have already put a lot of watchdogging into the sheriff’s proposed boondoggle.
In the meantime, the new jail effort needs a new leader and spokesman—because we really can no longer trust what the sheriff has to say on the subject.