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