Letter: The Ethics of Incarceration

Anika Sirois comments on the idea of a new jail for Whatcom County

Anika Sirois comments on the idea of a new jail for Whatcom County


In reference to Whatcom Democrats Are Pro-Jail?! , written by Jon Humphrey on Apr 19, 2023, the construction of a new and bigger jail would go directly against the wishes of the citizens of the county, as shown by the ballot results in 2015 and 2017. While the current jail is in horrible condition, severely overcrowded, and completely inhumane, the solution is not to embark on a new construction. The ethical route would be to remodel the current facility (at a much lower cost) and reexamine our current patterns of arrest and incarceration. One might think that the relocation of the jail out of downtown Bellingham would be a positive to the population of the city, but according to the ballots mentioned above, Bellingham residents were more opposed to the plans for the new jail than residents of the other cities within Whatcom county. This leads me to believe that the residents of the county would support community programs targeted to aid in mental health, addiction, and homelessness of many who would otherwise be incarcerated. Not only would these programs divert many possible inmates from the jail, but they would also be a welcome addition to the community care infrastructure of the county. 

As stated in Humphrey’s article, 98% of those held in the jail currently are being held pre-trial, so just because they couldn’t make bail they are being detained while being legally innocent. Also, according to a 2022 study by the same group planning the new jail, the Stakeholder Advisory Committee, 73% of surveyed inmates were houseless before their arrest, so they don’t really have a chance of paying that bail. Supposedly this population would be hard to release to the custody of family, or on their own recognisance, but if we perhaps had more facilities (halfway houses) wherein people who have not yet been sentenced could stay before trial, then the county would A: not be stripping people of their rights and liberties without a fair trial, and B: not be financially responsible for the internment of that person in a prison, which costs the federal government $45,000 a year per inmate on average. That money could be directed to these services and community programs which would also provide a whole bunch of new jobs in the county.

While the Democrats of the county appear to be pro-jail, the residents of the county are decidedly not.

Anika Sirois


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