Posted by: sweeneyblog | May 16, 2013

The County Moves Ahead on Oversized Jail

Location of the proposed Jail

Location of the proposed Jail

Once again, the county is moving ahead on constructing a jail that is too big and too expensive for Whatcom County. Just last week, the County posted a notice that they were accepting scoping comments on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed new jail.

Similar to the Gateway Pacific Terminal, the scoping would determine what issues are examined in the EIS. Unlike the Gateway Pacific Terminal, this notice for comment provided a pretty clear idea of the county’s goal.

The principle project elements would be: Adult Jail, Jail Support Area, Sheriff’s Headquarters and Services Building. The proposed project may be constructed in multiple phases. The first phase would open in 2017 with up to 660 beds. Based on a needs analysis through 2040, it is anticipated that a future phase might occur after 2030 which could bring the facility to approximately 800 beds total.

Let me be perfectly clear, 660 beds is way too big for our community. Just take a look at other local prisons to see how this proposal is extremely disproportional.

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
Whatcom   660  205,262 Proposed Capacity of new jail

If Whatcom County were to follow the same ratio of prison beds to population served as SCORE, our jail should be 496 beds

If Whatcom County were to follow the same ratio as Kitsap County, our jail should be 422 beds.

Building capacity for the future is important but the purpose of building a horizontal facility out on a large piece of land is that we can expand it in 25 years when we need more room.

Think about the cost to our community. Using the Jail Planning Task Force numbers, each additional bed costs an average of $80,000. Assuming that the SCORE ratio of population to beds is an ideal model – then building a facility with 660 beds will waste $13.9 million dollars. That does not even figure the costs of staffing and maintaining such a large facility or the cost of the land.

You can help stop the county from making this costly mistake! Click here to email Michael Russell with Whatcom County Facilities Management and Jack Louws, your county executive and let him know that 660 beds is too big and too expensive for our community.



  1. Dent. I put all the addresses in the BCC field, but your script is putting semicolons between addresses, and not commas. This prevented me from sending it until I removed all the semicolons.

  2. (That first word should be “Done!) Arrrgh.

    • Fixed! Thank you!

      • Here’s what I got back from the email link:

        From: NewJail@WhatcomCounty.US
        Subject: Automatic reply: 660 beds is TOO BIG.
        Date: May 16, 2013 02:47:16 PM PDT
        To: Kevyn Jacobs

        Thank you for your comment regarding the proposed Whatcom County jail. You will be added to our e-mail notification list for future meetings, news and information.

        We will respond within 48 hours to any questions you’ve asked. If additional time is warranted you will be notified of when to expect the requested information. If your e-mail includes comments on the upcoming environmental impact statement those will be entered into the scoping file. If your e-mail contains comments regarding the jail’s location, design or similar features, it will be forwarded on to the appropriate parties. Please keep in mind that subsequent emails received from same email address may not generate this auto reply.

        If you have any other questions, feel free to call the number below and speak with us personally.
        Thank you again for your interest.

        Reid H. Shockey, AICP
        Outreach Coordinator
        Shockey Planning Group
        425.259.4448 FAX
        This message is intended for the sole use of the addressee, and may contain information that is privileged, confidential and exempt from disclosure under applicable law. If you are not the addressee you are hereby notified that you may not use, copy, disclose, or distribute to anyone the message or any information contained in the message. If you have received this message in error, please immediately advise the sender by reply email and delete this message.

        P.S. I am disregarding the boilerplate “do not disclose” message at the bottom.
        P.P.S. (Riley – This message board needs editing tools!)

  3. Thank you Riley.

    Where is the needs analysis referenced in their scoping announcement? I don’t see it on the county’s website and as the recent co-chair of the Jail Planning Task Force, I would hope that they keep everyone informed.

    This cannot be a secret process. We need to see what this is based on and given that the needs analysis will profoundly impact our county’s budget for decades to come, that needs to be public.

  4. Seem. like a lot of beds, but the SCORE ratio of population-to-beds does not account for the border and the influx of additional “guest” we receive. No other county on this side of the state handles that additional load on a regular, but sporadic basis.

    Toss in the fact that we are also gatekeepers from Mexico to Canada because of Interstate 5, and I think you need to add at least some additional capacity (which might get Fed funding?). How many people pass through Whatcom County to reach Canada each year? I’m pretty sure it’s in the millions. Just my two cents. 🙂


    • Actually, the border has its own facility for people captured so that is not a factor for the County jail capacity.

      As for the tourists, they are so rarely arrested and if they are, they are swiftly transferred to another facility so it is not statistically significant.

  5. […] emailed the County about their plan for a jail that is too big and too expensive for our community. You can read about it here and send your own email by clicking here. This is a vital issue and they are only taking comments […]

  6. I redid the math and get 496 beds in Whatcom using SCORE’s ratio, and 422 beds using Kitsap’s.

    • You are quite right! I’ll update those right now. Thank you! I used an updated population count and it threw me off.

      • Either way, 660 beds is way off.

  7. Here’s another response I received today:

    From: Arden Landry
    Subject: RE: 660 beds is TOO BIG.
    Date: May 17, 2013 10:09:39 PM PDT
    To: Kevyn Jacobs
    Cc: Tawni Helms , Tyler Schroeder , Mike Russell , Reid Shockey ( ( , Camie Anderson ( (

    Dear Mr. Jacobs:

    Thank you for your email to Executive Louws. He has asked me to respond on his behalf. We will ensure that your comments are entered into the record for the SEIS process for the new jail. The full request for comments on the SEIS can be read here:

    Your interest is certainly appreciated!

    Arden Landry, CAP-OM
    Executive Assistant / Communications Coordinator
    Whatcom County Executive’s Office
    311 Grand Avenue, Suite 108
    Bellingham, WA 98225
    Ph 360 676 6717

    Disclaimer: Public documents and records are available to the public as required under the Washington State Public Records Act (RCW 42.56). The information contained in all correspondence with a government entity may be disclosable to third party requesters under the Public Records Act.

    —–Original Message—–
    From: Kevyn Jacobs []
    Sent: Thursday, May 16, 2013 2:47 PM
    To: Jack Louws
    Subject: 660 beds is TOO BIG.

    Please, don’t go through with the new 660 bed jail facility. It’s far to large and expensive for a Whatcom County.


    Kevyn Jacobs

  8. Libertarian survivalist conspiracy types should be very scared when extra jai space is being built “just because”. I am surprised the “Don’t Tread on Me” crowd is not also up in arms (pun intended) about this.

  9. The “Don’t Tread On Me” crowd is no enamored with Elfo, they will take anything he says, “hook, line, and sink[er]”. In case you didn’t notice, this is more about a new Sheriff’s Headquarters and related facilities than a reasonably sized, expandable detention facility. If it weren’t they would have already sited it where it makes the most sense….at the current location neighboring vacant lots. If you look at Elfo’s current needs analysis on a new site, it includes language that reads [substantially, not a direct quote] “enough parking space to accommodate the many multi-passenger buses and other vehicles needed to transport prisoner back and forth to court appearances.”

    All we hear Elfo talking about is how dangerous the current facility is (not an untrue statement), but ask him what they plan on doing with the current facility after Jailzilla is built. If it was, “literally falling apart” the only answer would be to immediately raze it, not spend millions fixing the technology and physical plant problems it has, which is exactly what they are doing right this second. It will still be used as a detention facility LONG after any new facility is built.

    Weird, how quickly Elfo ran away from the last Jailzilla proposal during his election campaign, only to immediately resurrect it after the election….

  10. Sure wish there was a way to correct previous posts….Here is the actual wording from the memo to council. “Vehicle storage to accommodate multiple transport vehicles ranging from sedan to 32 passenger prisoner transport bus.”

  11. […] I blogged about the latest jail proposal which includes too many beds for our community. However, it is not just the number of beds that is […]

  12. The new jail would include up to 660 beds in Phase 1 and would also house the Sheriff’s Office. The jail is scheduled to open in 2017, barring delays.

  13. […] is for a facility with 660 beds that would scale up to 800 beds in 2030, despite that fact that 500 beds is much closer to our actual needs for the next twenty years. So where did the 660 bed number come […]

  14. […] much time is going to pass between Phase I and Phase II (649 beds – almost identical to the Sheriff’s original proposal). The jail planners made the disturbing assertion that increased funding for mental health services […]

  15. Is your county planning to use those extra beds to house inmates for other over crowded counties or facilities? Our county makes $$$ my charging to house inmates for other agencies?

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