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Provide feedback about the County’s jail implementation plan

On May 24, the County will hold a Town Hall Listening Session to discuss how they plan to improve our local justice system. The meeting agenda states they will provide background on the Justice Project and a 1.5-hour public comment period. We expect the presentation to include details on how they’ll address gaps and failures in our system in anticipation of a November ballot measure that will request funding for a new jail, diversion services, and pre/post incarceration services. 

As part of the public input process, the County would like residents to answer these three questions:

  1. Do you have questions or concerns about any of the proposed implementation plan projects?
  2. Which of these projects seems like they will make the biggest difference in our community?
  3. What considerations are important for Council to think about regarding a new jail and new behavioral health facilities?

Provide feedback using any of these three methods:

  • Email Justice Project members at
  • Email County Councilmembers at
  • Attend the Town Hall Listening Session on May 24 from 6 – 8 pm in the Whatcom County Courthouse Council Chambers (311 Grand Avenue, Bellingham)

Looking for feedback ideas? The Justice System Committee has closely followed the County’s work to build consensus toward a ballot measure that requests funding for a new jail and incarceration prevention services. Prior to learning of the County’s questions, we compiled a list of feedback options that generally describe support for a smaller jail facility and a ballot measure that prioritizes funding for services over incarceration.

Statement supporting a smaller jail and support services

We believe the ballot measure must prioritize support services. The ballot should include jail diversion alternatives, bail elimination, minimal “holding” cell time awaiting court dates, mental/health/addiction support services, and reintegration support such as housing and education opportunities. Diversion programs, shortened cell waiting times, et al would allow for a smaller jail size.

Questions for Town Hall

  • What lessons did the Stakeholder Advisory Committee take away from the two failed jail ballot measures? 
  • How can voters be assured that funding will be directed at services and diversion programs (short and long term) and not building a continually-growing jail? 
  • Sheriff Elfo, who’s responsible for repair and maintenance of the current jail, has created increasingly substandard conditions. How will the County ensure oversight of funding and maintenance to be sure this doesn’t happen again? 
  • If we overhaul the justice system with the goal of preventing and reducing the number incarcerated, what reasons do you have for needing a larger jail other than population growth?
  • Will County Council and stakeholders consider breaking up the bond issue to prioritize funding services before a new jail facility? 
  • The assessment of our justice system shined a light on how poorly our various justice system departments (courts, police, jail, prosecutors, 911) communicate with each other.  What plans are in place or what progress has been made to address this massive issue? 
  • Why hasn’t the County prioritized services (pre-trial, alternatives, and post-incarceration services, like housing) as the focus of the new ballot measure, versus a new jail? 
  • Has there been any effort focused on legislative lobbying at the state or national level to help meet the systemic needs of a community that is trying to prevent and reduce incarceration (e.g. competency evaluations, Medicaid suspension, restorative services, elimination of bail, etc.)? Who are our legislative allies for bills to support these measures?