Most of you might remember last year, there was a whole big community battle over the size of our new jail. Bill Elfo had badgered Pete Kremen into supporting a proposed jail that was 844 beds, a big jump up from our modest 300 beds we have now. I wrote a big long letter to Pete Kremen, trying to straighten him out and after my letter, and let’s be honest, a big community meeting where over 300 people showed up to show their opposition to this jail monstrosity, Pete Kremen pulled his support from the facility.
Since then, the County council approved a “Jail Task Force” examined what we need, and it came up with a whole series of recommendations aimed at getting the size down to a much more manageable, affordable and appropriate size. But Elfo has turned around and formed a citizens group to ram through the over-sized jail that he wants. It is called “Build a Safe Jail Now”. Made up of committee members from Elfo’s re-election campaign, the supposed citizen group seems to devote most of their energy to fighting straw arguments; i.e. getting into a twist about the layout of the jail or arguing that opponents of Jail-zilla are trying to delay the process. The group has been lobbying the county council and the county executive to greenlight a jail that has 600-750 beds. The problem is that is WAY too many beds and WAY too much money. Take a look at this chart:
|New Jail In 2015||2025||2035|
|Beds needed if we jail 0.2% – average rate of incarceration here and elsewhere||424||482||542|
|Plus a safety factor 10%||466||530||596|
|Plus a 20% safety factor – this is the right size jail!||509||578||650|
|The size of the new jail as proposed by Sheriff Elfo’s committee||750||750||750|
|# of empty jail beds||341||172||100|
|Cost to build those empty jail beds (does not include the cost to maintain empty jail space or to service the debt.) Average cost of $80,000 per bed.||$27 million||$13.76 million||$8 million|
*Updated to reflect Washington OFM 5/2012 median forecast. These are lower than previous forecasts.
As you can clearly see, their proposed facility is way out of synch with common sense. With the community hurting for dollars, do we build a smaller facility that we can expand if necessary or do we blow all of our tax dollars on something so out of proportion, it guts our local government?
Not only that, but South King County (SCORE), Kitsap and Thurston County have all built jails recently. Take a look at their numbers:
|County or City||# of beds||Population served||Notes|
|SCORE||822||340,000||Officials state this will serve them for 20 years.|
|Kitsap||510||248,300||Officials state that this will suffice for quite awhile|
|Thurston||389||252,400||They build a new jail but it sits empty at a cost of $500,000 per year. They recently hired a consultant to help them decide what to do|
If Whatcom County were to follow the same ratio as SCORE, our jail should be 486 beds
If Whatcom County were to follow the same ratio as Kitsap County, our jail should be 406 beds
Finally, there is the issue of who is funding this community group. I already have seen a large truck with their sign going around, and the website is professionally built, however I am having trouble locating any financial information for this group. Now Bill Elfo had $10,000 leftover in his re-election campaign account, however transfering those funds to a community lobbying group like this would be illegal (see the PDC regulations here), so I’m sure that isn’t the case. I have calls out for quotes to the Build a Safe Jail now group to get some answers to these questions and more and will update this post as necessary.