Our Justice System Committee reviewed the Public Health, Safety, and Justice Facilities and Services Ordinance (full text) that the County will place on the November 2023 ballot. In the following table, we provide a summary of the main topics covered in the ordinance to help you determine whether it meets our County’s needs. Below the table, we ask questions the ordinance does not answer.
We also remind you that the November ballot will include many candidates for positions (such as Sheriff, Executive, Bellingham Mayor, and councilmembers) that will play a crucial role in determining how these funds would be used and the degree to which the Justice Project goals are accomplished. We encourage you to vote for candidates that commit to reducing incarceration rates and creating resources to help people, prior to, during, and after entering the criminal justice system.
Behavioral health treatment center
The ordinance states the facility is prioritized but no specific details, including whether it's part of or separate from the jail facility.
Proposed new behavioral health facility but unclear if part of the jail or separate facility.
Supportive housing for released inmates
No details; defers to Justice Project Implementation Plan as guidance.
Diversion programs and facilities
Questions Unanswered by the Ordinance
- How much will the jail cost to build and operate?
- The National Institute of Corrections estimates that construction is just 10% of the overall jail cost, while operations is 90%. The location of the jail will affect operational costs (e.g. transporting between the facility and courts.)
- An operational budget is necessary to ensure regular maintenance so that the jail doesn’t fall into disrepair as the current one has.
- How will leadership be held accountable to spend the sales tax revenue in accordance with the Justice Project Implementation Plan and Needs Assessment?
- When will the County decide on the cost, size, and capacity of the new jail?
- How will the current jail’s substandard conditions be alleviated over the next 4-6 years until the proposed new jail becomes operational?
- With services not funded or in place for several years, what are the County’s immediate plans to improve drug and mental health diversion and treatment for those inside or outside the criminal justice system, court backlogs, and housing the unhoused?
- Completion of certified behavioral treatment takes time. Will behavioral health/substance use disorder treatment participants have to agree to longer sentences in order to be eligible for services? If so, this is a ‘liberty interest’ issue.
- Who will be eligible for services funded by the ordinance? When will services be made available?
We’d love to hear from you!
Let us know how you’re feeling about the jail ordinance or if we missed something above. Email us at email@example.com.
- 9/24/2023 – We updated the Funding/Timeline to state “a minimum” of 50% will go towards services. Thanks to Dena Jensen for finding this error. We also modified the information about capacity.
- 10/18/2023 – We updated the 4-6 years funding description based on feedback we received from several individuals. We want to make clear that there’s no guarantee about the funding that will go towards services.