Posted by: sweeneyblog | April 14, 2015

Liveblogging the Whatcom Council Jail Hearing

Over 150 members of the public showed up on a sunny Tuesday to share their thoughts on the new jail with the county council.


Barbara Brenner (Whatcom's Kiwi) waves while the council gathers

Forgive the formatting, this blog is via smartphone.

Essential Background: The county has purchased the land for the jail and come to a bit of a consensus on the size (551 beds).

Now the discussion revolves around two issues – whether there will be any sort of diversion programs or mental health services included in this project and how will we pay for it all.

Council chair Carl Weimer frames the discussion, “We all agree there needs to be a new jail . . . what we are looking for are ideas on reducing the growth of our jail population.”

He also noted that the vote to fund this jail could be this August or November or even later.

Sheriff Elfo spoke raising the fear factor of a “calamitous event such as a fire.” He urged the council to approve the jail, “with all possible speed.”

Elfo then goes through a litany of our current efforts to reduce the jail population including giving warnings for misdemeanors and pleading for funding from the state for mental heath programs.

Two speakers in and their comments can be summarized as, “Don’t slow down the jail, build it now!” Still no discussion of diversion programs, but this speaker have already blamed, taxes, Bellingham and the Whatcom Charter.

Greg Winter, head of the county health department called for a full review of our treatment programs so we can improve those efforts, “On a parallel track or accelerated path with the jail.”

Joy Gifilen spoke saying that she spoke to “two millionaire types” who have been, “run out of town by the Sheriff and the executive”. She complained that the Sheriff got too much time while the public is limited to three minutes. Her comments drew cheers from the audience, which got a gentle rebuke from Weimer.

Finally a speaker shares his personal story of a family friend who struggles with mental health. The speaker highlights the number of private companies making money off the incarceration system. “Please tell me how building an even bigger jail and putting our community even deeper in debt will solve these problems!”

A grizzled corrections officer speaks to the challenges of our growing population and the dangerous state of the current jail.

Kay Sardo, of the Right Size Jail coalition asks that part of the funding package offered for the vote go to diversion programs.

Catherine Chambers, a local social worker and one of my favorite people, points out that social services work best when they are not in a jail setting such as teen court.

Abe Jacobson points out that we will be growing in population as “waves of environmental refuges come in from the south west seeking temperate climates.”

Tyler Ryan says that Elfo and Louws have spent “a lot of time” on this and “we should trust our elected officials to make the decisions we’ve elected them to make.”

Phone is fading so I will add more info once I get home.

Was able to charge it up enough for Kris Halterman, organizer for the pro-coal PAC SAVEWhatcom. She argues that the size is right but it could be bigger. “You are going to have a hard time convincing people that you will actually build it this time.” She then went on to compare reparations to slavery.



  1. I think that Riley should get his first choice of beds in the jail and Walter Haugen should his first choice of beds in the mental ward.

    • What’s the charge?

      • My guess… Being Liberal.

      • Being intelligent and asking questions is enough of a criminal offense for Mr. Farber.

  2. We dont have a “mental ward” . We keep our mentally ill on the streets…..or in jail…

    • We have a 10-bed mental health unit that is almost impossible to get into, as CDMHP’s are limited in their ability to commit people, by state laws that make them find “less restrictive alternatives” on their first trip to the ER, no matter how psychotic they are. I’ve seen this many times within my own family, and as a mental health RN. Rarely can a family get the member back into the ER once they’ve been turned away. This is one of the worst states in the country…..

  3. Thank you so much for doing this. I want to point that everyone can email the council your thoughts at this address:

  4. Riley,

    Thank you for your hard work on the jail issue and thank you for this specific post! I was not able to attend the public meeting, but I am very concerned about this jail issue. Your writing helps keep us informed.

    We really more information and study to get the jail vs. the mental health issue solved. It has been ignored for too long.

    In my mind the mental health, alcohol abuse, drug dependency, and health treatment are also public safety issues. There needs to be more analysis of the daily police arrest reports — in my opinion 50+% of all arrests and police work are alcohol and drug related.

    How much alcohol is sold in this town? Any information from St. Joseph’s Hospital about alcohol related admissions?

    Sincerely, Tom Gilmore

  5. Just and FYI, Greg Winter is the the chair of the Whatcom County Coalition to End Homelessness and the Executive Director of the Whatcom Homeless Service Center, which operates out of the OC. And he echoed my sentiments exactly. Our services for ill individuals need to be brought up in capacity concurrent to the new jail, or we’ll have the same old problems.

  6. And Riley,
    Thanks for your efforts, as I couldn’t make it tonight. My husband did go, and wonders how to do we prevent yesterdays’ solutions from becoming tomorrow’s problem? (like the old jail, for instance; no one’s ever investigated who got the money and was responsible for the bad job. Vested interests don’t tend to talk, it’s all covered up. How do we know that won’t happen again? Thanks for your comments on the corrupt bail bond system as well. And no one’s talking about Peace Health cancelling their Recovery Center that was so successful in diverting people from jail and preventing medical complications.

  7. Heaven help us that Kentucky should have needed to be a source of inspiration for legal reform on the West Coast. Thanks for covering that process and suggesting reform.

  8. The Jail is a Fail. The Cascadia Weekly finally printed my letter to the editor from three weeks ago. It provides a nice counterpoint to the mainstream fluff promulgated by Boondoggle Bill Elfo. As I say in my letter, this new jail gives me “the willies.” [That’s adminspeak for WELES – welfare for law enforcement syndrome.]

  9. I am on the East Coast and could not attend. My testimony is that I expect unless changed dramatically, the ballot measure to raise taxes to fund a new jail will fail. Nobody debates that the current jail is a disaster waiting to happen. But that does not mean that any proposal will pass..I think that many on both sides of the political spectrum believe that our elected officials have failed us on the jail issue.The location choice is very suspect. The size of the jail could be lessened if simple reforms such as reminder calls for court appearances were made. And, bail reform needs to be considered. There are few wealthy people that spend day after day in the jail awaiting trial..Innocent until proven guilty is a concept that simply does not apply to the poor. And, the problem of the jail being alternative housing for the mentally ill must be addressed in a ballot proposition, not merely acknowledged.The current jail is cruel and unusual punishment. And, even though it pisses Sheriff Bill off to hear it, some of the jail problems stem from the thuggish behavior of some of the jail keepers. I am not alone in experiencing this. Ask anybody who has been a “guest of the county” as I have. Most will bear the same witness.

    • You raise several good points Bob, but the County Council did not address them before rushing ahead with this new boondoggle.

  10. Are we arresting people for the numbers, here’s my story, I am a seventy year old grandfather who four years ago was arrested for trying to find my seven year old granddaughter. A sheriff’s deputy took his police report from a total stranger who said my granddaughter was sleeping over in his condo, yet despite the deputy knowing this, came back and arrested me because he refused to go and find her or even talk with her. I finally told him to go and flipping find my granddaughter, whereupon I was arrested for disorderly conduct and breach of peace. Two months later prosecutors added an assault charge and I didn’t find out till after my conviction, their alleged victim witness turned out to be the most infamous gold robber in Canada’s history.The whole story is incredible, especially about the part when they say I was drunk after justing getting home an hour earlier from Canada and I have border crossings to prove it, and the judge related to the deputy who left my granddaughter with the luring suspects yet not even the prosecutor cared, should make everyone wonder who are the criminals and who are the good guys, do we really want to spend millions and give control and power to people who could put us away and call us crazy all for protecting our grandchildren?

    Two and half years ago, St. Joseph’s said I made death threats against hospital employees and responders who came to our home when my wife fainted, responders walked out without helping my wife, they were told there was a DNR in my wife’s medical records, the only problem for them is we never signed one. Our governor says the people voted for death with dignity, if I want them to investigate her death, I first have to change the law. Obviously the governor forgot that murder and hastening death is still a crime in Washington. RCW 70.122.90

    bobby brown

  11. St. Joseph’s Hospital DNR

    The whole nightmare story is on, Talk Platelets

    If anyone would like to see supreme court documents on fraud and maliscious constitutional errors or join my my new meetup group go to Hastening Death Is Murder
    bobby brown

  12. Riley, thanks for being there to sum up what so many, including me, were trying to say… We must make sure that loss of funding for preventative and alternative services for people in need is not used as an excuse for a larger jail/prison outside of the county seat and far from most families and services that are working on behalf of those who should be somewhere safe until being judged.

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