The Making of a Jail Crisis: Part Three - Inhumane Outlouws

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Do taxpayers want to be shackled to a big jail boondoggle?

After wrecking the jail structure and stuffing it with increased bookings and longer stays, what else could help propel a jail crisis? Inhumane conditions!

In the current issue of the Cascade Weekly, Sheriff Elfo himself asserts the jail is being managed illegally. At a recent League of Women Voters forum (subject starts at 1:14:27), Chief Corrections Deputy Wendy Jones from the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office, said that if dogs were treated at the pound the way they treat prisoners at the jail, there would be a public uproar. A common theme to the pro-jail campaign is that conditions in the jail are inhumane, overcrowded and unsafe.

Well, there’s a law for that. Award winning citizen journalist Wendy Harris at the Whatcom Hawk has pointed out that Whatcom County Code section 1.28 outlines Standards For Correctional Facilities, including procedures to alleviate overcrowding and other inhumane conditions. It does not appear that the responsible parties have bothered to follow this law. In particular, 1.28.100 (E) states the sheriff “shall” arrange for the “release of prisoners before the end of their term or the transfer to other approved facilities when overcrowding occurs.” Think that's happened? While there has been much talk of the the need for diversion programs and alternative sentencing guidelines to save taxpayers money and better help those who need it, there has been little evidence of such concern from the department. Bookings are up while crime is down.

Anne Deacon, of County Mental Health Services, in records of the Jail Planning Task Force, goes to great lengths to stress the importance of pre-booking alternatives to preserve prisoner health coverage and get those who need it to treatment. She underscores that these measures cannot and should not occur in the jail. In the same record, Bruce Van Glubt of Adult Probation, apparently in step with Whatcom County’s current correctional paradigm, reports that, “No offender is ever screened out for any reason, regardless of criminal history, risk for re-offense, danger to themselves or others, or amenability to treatment.”

So what’s been accomplished? Not much. The Comprehensive Behavioral Health Plan of July 2008 was recently reintroduced to a Special County Council meeting at the Health Board on May 5, 2015. I guess that’s a start. A slow one, maybe, but a start.

Everyone else is talking about Criminal Justice Reform (p.49) to reduce jail capacities, save costs and better help people. Why do we keep putting the conversation off? It is precisely the horse that should be in front of Louws’ and Elfo’s jail cart.

Has the jail been intentionally allowed to run down? Is the management exploiting prisoners for political advantage? Piled onto the sketchy deal for the most expensive wetlands and ash pit in Whatcom County, and the couple million spent on planning without producing so much as a plan or credible needs assessment, taxpayers have every reason to be at least skeptical - if not wary - of the outlouws in charge of the jail project.