Jail Notes - Elfo and Everyone Else

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Sheriff Bill Elfo is scheduled to make a presentation to the County Council tomorrow. Agenda Bill 2016-100 states only that the presentation is about the Jail Use Agreement with the City of Bellingham. No background or additional content is offered. It’s difficult to see how he will make much progress.

Also on the agenda, Council members Buchanan, Mann and Weimer offer a resolution (large agenda packet pdf - p. 235) “Adopting a Statement of…Jail Planning Principles…”.

The resolution finds that the Council’s leadership is needed in the wake of the administration’s failed jail tax. It finds that coordination with tribes and participating jurisdictions is necessary to a comprehensive outcome, resolves to find a solution voters can support, and asks for the adoption of a refreshing platform of principles (agenda packet - pp. 236-238).

These principles include an attempt to reintroduce “fiscal responsibility, fair treatment, harm reduction, healing and prevention” into the equation of Criminal Justice and Public Safety. They directly question a number of assumptions that have been consistently ramrodded through the public process: Why a central jail location was torpedoed, whether the existing jail can be repaired or repurposed, if mental health needs are better served in the community than in jail, and to what extent diversionary and preventative practices might be implemented.

Perhaps most important, the principles assert that “crucial information has been lacking” and that “decisions must be based on data and evidence”. That is indeed a 'very good place to start'.

While they are at it, they might at least wonder why the administration would go to voters for a tax, but without an approved jail plan, much less a bona fide needs assessment, and attempt an end run around all imaginable community priorities now being enunciated to build a jail way too big for Whatcom County, but just right for the prison industry.

February 23 Schedule:

Agenda Item: Elfo Presentation
Finance Committee, 11AM, Council Chambers

Agenda Item: Buchanan, Mann, Weimer Resolution
Planning Committee, 2:30PM, Council Chambers

County Council Meeting - All Agenda Items
7PM, Council Chambers

Tip Johnson

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