Whatcom County Incarceration Committees

by Bill McCallum

Jail Planning Task Force
At the April 26, 2011 meeting, the County Council established the Whatcom County Jail Planning Task Force. The task force of citizens with expertise and county officials  wased focused on finding a permanent facility for housing higher risk offenders to fit population projections, sited at a reasonable location, and designed to accommodate expansion if needed. It was an adhoc subcommittee of the Law and Justice Council. The County Executive appointed 13 members to the task force: five representing law enforcement/county government/mental health and eight citizen members. A final report was issued on April 10, 2012: it proposed a new jail be built; a professional jail planner be retained; the number of beds should range between 500-700; be centrally located in the county near I-5 and a reasonable drive from the courthouse.

Executive Jail Planning Work Group
The information on this committee is nearly nonexistent. I did a public records request; only the minutes for a meeting held on July 9, 2012 were found. The main goals of the meeting were the hiring of a jail planner and reducing the Law and Justice Council from 40 members to 10-15 members. At the end of the minutes was the entry that the next meeting was not scheduled. Since no other minutes were found, were no more meetings held? The Washington Open Public Meetings Act codified in RCW 42.30.035 requires the minutes of all regular and special meetings to be recorded and open to public inspection.

Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force
At the June 9, 2015 meeting, the County Council created the Whatcom County Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force. The purpose is intended to provide a continuum of services that reduces incarceration of individuals affected with mental illness and chemical dependency and minimizes jail utilization by pretrial defendants. The task force originally included 12 permanent members and 11 members appointed by the Whatcom County Council. The task force is still functioning: it currently has 30 members, (22 permanent members and eight appointed by the County Council). It met four times in 2020 and four times through April 19 of this year.

Jail Stakeholder Workgroup
At the June 14, 2016 meeting, the County Council established the Jail Stakeholder Workgroup. At the 2015 general election, voters opposed a sales tax increase to construct a new county jail. The workgroup will address financial agreements required for development of a new jail, including the size and associated cost of the facility; the funding mechanism; and the allocation and funding for operating expenses. It met five times in 2016 and three times in 2017. At the May 5, 2017 meeting of the Jail Stakeholder Workgroup, recommendations were approved. They were: $110 million was the estimated cost of a new jail including property purchase, and that the county address safety issues and the cost sharing allocation among jurisdictions

Stakeholder Advisory Committee
At the December 3, 2019 meeting, the County Council established a Stakeholder Advisory Committee for a public health, safety, and justice (jail) facility in Whatcom County. At the 2017 general election, voters opposed a sales tax increase to construct a new county jail. At the August 7, 2019 meeting, the council adopted a statement expressing planning principles for meeting community behavioral health needs and for professional needs’ assessment services. The council created a committee to solicit and collect community input during a needs’ assessment process. The committee will consist of 23 voting members — eight members will be appointed by the County Council, the other members are appointed by small cities (2), tribes (2) or government agencies (11). At the February 11, 2020 meeting, the council increased the committee from 23 to 36 members. The first meeting was secheduled for March 16, 2020 —  it was cancelled, and, as of April 19, 2121 it has not been rescheduled.