by Edward Alexander
Local attorney, president of Board of Directors of Whatcom Peace & Justice Center
Here’s why: The capacity of the main jail is 212 inmates. The minimum-security facility holds an additional 150 people. Last year, voters voted down a $100,000,000 proposal to build a new 521-bed jail. My sources for the numbers are below. Tonight, the County Council is voting on a comprehensive plan that includes $112,000,000 for an incarceration facility.
Although the plan explicitly and intentionally leaves out the number of people we will be incarcerating at this facility, $112,000,000 is more than enough to build the 521-bed jail that voters rejected last year. Upping the number of beds in the jail from 212 to 521 would more than double the jail size.
Here’s the specific language from pages 13 and 14 of Appendix E of the Proposed Whatcom County 20 Year Capital Facilities Plan (emphasis added):
In an effort to meet the community need, the County plans to construct a new, expanded,
and/or remodeled Adult Corrections Facility within the six-year planning period. The cost of
the facility is approximately $112,000,000, which has been proposed to be paid for with
bond proceeds that would be repaid with new sales tax. As an interim measure, existing
correction facility improvements are planned so that these buildings can continue to function
until the new or remodeled jail is completed. The cost of the improvements to the existing
jail facilities is approximately $3,000,000, which would be paid from the Jail Improvement
Fund and the General Fund. There are no capital improvement projects currently identified
that would add jail facilities within the 7 to 20 year planning period. However, the County
will monitor the adequacy of jail facilities throughout the planning period and consider
capital improvements if warranted in the future. Maintenance projects will be undertaken as
April 16, 2016 Bellingham Herald article, "Whatcom County executive: Ask voters for new jail tax before EMS"
October 23, 2015 Bellingham Herald article, "What’s true, false in claims about Whatcom County Jail"
July 27, 2016 Northern Light editorial, "Guest editorial: Bill Elfo, Whatcom County Sheriff"