The Jail Tax Ransom is Unacceptable

Contributing writer Joy Gilfilen, is the President of the Restorative Community Coalition a 501C3 nonprofit organization working to implement justice reform, recovery, jobs programs and community based economic alternatives to mass incarceration. Joy is the co-author of Stop Punishing Taxpayers, Start Rebuilding Community, author of Noble Cause Corruption, and the speaker producer of No Bigger Jail – Invest in People’s Success, Not in their Failure – a 15 min. expose’ of the game of privateering - the business side of mass incarceration.


Proposition 2017-6 is a great big public “jail tax ransom” note. It has a hefty price tag well in excess of $100,000,000 – that they say is very conservative. They will “true it up later” after the tax passes.

The billions of dollars of on-going operating tax bondage for your great-grandchildren is deceptively obscure, since half of this tax runs in perpetuity – which means forever. This combines with three other .1% sales taxes to become a huge income extraction machine taking cash flow directly from the retailers and common citizens of the community – all for law and justice related purposes. This is on top of property taxes.

This tax gives law and justice administrators exceptional, earmarked money. They will have money and the presumptive authority to fund the mass incarceration of people, under the guise they are building a small but expandable jail facility on 40 acres of expensive industrial land. They diminish the fact that this pod is just Phase 1 of a bigger plan to expand to reach its full market potential of a 2400 bed incarceration facility which includes a new 2.5 acre Sheriff’s compound.

This elaborate regional jail compound is roughly 20 minutes from any one of the 15+ ports of international entry to the US in the “deep north”. Whatcom County sits on the I-5 corridor, a high transportation hub for rail, road, air and sea transportation to the entire Pacific Rim and the new routes through the Arctic. This is on the northern border of the United States right in the middle of the natural resource rich greater Seattle-Tacoma-Vancouver, BC metro area connecting 8 million people with the world.

Selling this as an innocuous local jail and a local sales tax is just contrary to common sense. How did we get here? Think about the upside down coercive absurdity of this Jail Ransom Tax:

Step 1) Local law enforcement elected officials (the Sheriff, Prosecutor and County Executive) have self-declared that they have neglected to fix the “inhumane” jail for decades. They claim that the people living and working in the jail are now at catastrophic risk of trauma and loss of life, and the taxpayers are at risk of liability.

They have even put their own staff in harm’s way, and this staff is now actively campaigning to promote the tax. This shows how the inmates, staff and family are being held hostage to the power of these top authorities.

Step 2) The failures of the “criminal justice system” are then used as the excuse for expansion. The officials deny and reject that it is their own administrative management of the courts, the taxes, and the budgets together with their jail practices and abusive treatment of people that are the means to compel taxpayers, out of fear and compassion, to give them more money.

This is a form of predatory grooming of the people by narcissistic leaders who use emotional terrorism and various forms of extortion to force compliance by others. ie. We, the people outside the system, are manipulated by the fear that if we have people inside the facility we are at risk of harming them directly, or causing them to be retaliated against by the hostage takers. So we are silenced. Simultaneously we also are fearful of future guilt, shame and blame if something does happen to people and we did not give the money over.

Step 3) Here is the hidden double-bind: If the leaders (the council members and mayors) had said “No” while people are being harmed then no one could deny their culpability. They would be blamed for saying NO. Saying “Yes” relieves them of short-term guilt, but long-term the hostage takers get more money to build a bigger jail, so more people can be taken hostage, harmed and abused.

This is one of the reasons council members, mayors and others passed this hot potato off on the people. Instead of incorporating the findings of the Vera Institute of Justice into better policy, they spent their time negotiating a business contract with the County officials and municipalities. Municipalities were easy targets to excuse themselves by agreeing to a financial payoff for their cities under the illusion that they could “fix it later” with alternative programs after the jail is bought and paid for. This is a form of denial.

This is a very human internal double-bind. Councils took the deal, essentially shifting the blame to voters. They did not want to get blamed for taking a hard political position. Unfortunately, this kind of political collusion simply shifts the problem, perpetuating the generational and systemic abuse.

So the hand-off to the voters forces us each to make one of two painful choices.

Choice 1) Accept the tax - get the quick fix and cause long-term harm. This is often the course chosen by the faint of heart. It is called ‘enabling’ in the abuse-addiction cycles. We all know the system is deeply imbedded and riddled with injustice, so this choice is a bandaid. We can pray and hope to salve the self-inflicted wound, as we roll-over and yield to injustice. The price we pay is that it corrodes our soul.

Choice 2) Reject the tax – this may cause some short-term pain and harm but we can face the music, deal with the problems, reverse the situation and start our healing right here and right now. This is called tough love, and it can feel pretty harsh.

The pinch hurts. Either way people will be hurt. Face it. Decide for yourself if you have the fortitude to live with the guilt of perpetuating tax addiction, the abusive systems, the failure of flawed policies? Or do you have the fortitude and courage to Reject the tax, intercept the abuse cycle and force a correction on the law vs. justice system as we seek honor and integrity?

REJECT this big jail ransom tax. I want to support the correction of a law and justice system that has fed into the prison industrial complex to the point that our nation is #1 at taking away freedom from the people.

I firmly believe that with the current findings of the Vera Institute of Justice, the courage of the Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force, the wisdom that has been gleaned by organizations like the Restorative Community Coalition and with the encouragement of the people, we can take back our democracy for the people. We can arrest the expansion of the prison industrial complex right here right now. We, as people of Whatcom County, can turn this around. Bite the bullet. Don’t let it strike.

About Joy Gilfilen

Citizen Journalist • Member since May 19, 2015

Joy is the President of the Restorative Community Coalition a 501C3 nonprofit organization working to implement justice reform, recovery, jobs programs and community based economic alternatives to mass incarceration.

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