This Noble Cause Corruption report is large – 196 pages. It is loaded here in three different PDF files since the files were cumbersome to email and download. There are many items of evidence and graphics inside the three Red, White and Yellow flaggeds Addendums 1-2-3.
This report was compiled and written by Joy Gilfilen, the President of the Restorative Community Coalition. Her goal was to provide a compendium of evidence to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission and the WA State Attorney General’s Office to back up the original complaint filed by the 15 different people in the 2015 PDC Case #1122 related to Whatcom County Jail Tax on the ballot. This was a complex case that had civil rights and ethics issues included together with specific complaints about the misuse of facilities by the elected officials who were running the campaign and violations related to the illegal mailer sent out by the Whatcom County corporation to taxpayers. That mailer was delivered the same weekend that the ballots were delivered, and the mailer was sent to specific lists of select voters.
PDC Case #1122 was filed against the Whatcom County Prosecutor, the Whatcom County Executive and the Whatcom County Sheriff alleging that the way that these top three elected law enforcement officials were operating the jail tax campaign in violation of election law. Ultimately, this was took a good year to investigate by the State, and County Executive Jack Louws was found to be responsible and in violation of State Campaign Laws. He was fined $1000 personally, with $500 held for a probationary period of five years from the finding. The determination is still available on the PDC website, and is downloadable as a PDF with 1031 pages.
This Noble Cause Corruption still stands as a taxpayer’s report of facts about how these top 3 officials worked together to go around the taxpayer’s who were simply asking for transparency and for their concerns to be addressed during the campaign to pass the tax. Subsequently that 2015 tax failed; and the Executive Branch teamed up again, to try to compel the taxpayers to pass a tax in 2017 – for the same plan. That tax, was rejected by the taxpayers. The taxpayers have clearly spoken that they was justice system reform and a reduction in incarceration rates.
The Restorative Community Coalition has been working to get Washington State Department of Corrections to release people who have served their time with a legal identification when they leave prison. Today, they still leave with an prison badge, and are expected to cash their $40 release check with that as the only thing that a bank would see to confirm the person cashing the check is who they say they are. This is a huge reason that people are not able to return…they give up.
This article below was written by a Washington State Department of Corrections inmate from Whatcom County whose name is withheld, and was submitted to the Lynden Tribune in 2012 by Irene Morgan of the Whatcom County ReEntry Coalition (now www.therestorativecommunity.org. Our goal is to support people who are recovering from the aftereffects of being involved with the law and justice system. “For each person who is successful, that is a $35,019 savings per year. Is this a possible solution for our out-of-balance system?” she asks.
Inmate’s Prisoner Identity Badge doesn’t work for legal identification.
By an inmate who was serving time from Whatcom County.
History has a way of repeating itself. We can learn a lot from it. At the end of World War I, Germany surrendered unconditionally. Along with that came economic sanctions and reparations so outlandish in nature that Germany couldn’t possibly survive. John Maynard Keynes, a young British economist at the time, was so shocked by the hearings that in 1919 he wrote a book titled “The Consequence of The Peace.” Keynes asserted that Germany’s inability to comply with the treaty would eventually turn ugly. He made it clear that Europe would forever be scarred by the shortsighted policy of the three-nation panel, made up of France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, that penned the Treaty of Versailles. It was also noted that Germany, unable to meet the rigorous demands, would most certainly revert back to the same situation they got into, to begin with — war, and so they did.
Is there a chance that Germany might have reentered the world arena peacefully with a policy more tailored toward success than failure? Arguably, yes.
So let’s look at some of the questions as they pertain to bad policy in our justice system today. Recidivism is at an all-time high, while public safety budgets are at historic lows. Three out of every four felons released from prison re-offend and return to state and federal prison facilities within three years of being released. Most go back for the same type of behavior that sent them away in the first place.
Annually, $36,000 is spent in taxes just to house just one inmate.
Can we afford not to ask some questions:
Is our policy shortsighted?
Is it lacking the balance to achieve its goal?
Is it outdated? Does it work?
Are there any easy solutions?
All these questions, and many more need to be asked by you and me.
Let’s look at a few of the obstacles a person releasing from prison faces.
Identification is one thing most of us take for granted. Let’s face it, who doesn’t have ID? What would it be like if you didn’t have usable identification? The truth is that most people getting out of prison are unable to obtain a valid Washington State ID card. What they do have is a Washington State Department of Corrections Badge that clearly says ‘OFFENDER’ #123456 in big bold letters. The Department of Licensing does not honor it as valid proof of self unless accompanied with an e-letter from DOC on file for 60 days. You can’t cash a check with it, rent a motel room or apartment and you sure wouldn’t want to use it when seeking employment!
Something as simple as a valid ID would give a returning citizen a giant advantage in making the positive steps needed as they attempt to overcome extreme obstacles. What about transportation? Our community has a wonderful transit system in place. It is used to get to and from work, school, and a number of other daily tasks. People returning to the community are required to be at appointments on time and seek employment. Transportation plays a crucial role in whether or not a person can realistically meet the demands of their release plan. A simple monthly bus pass program for releasing offenders would be a crucial component in a positive and successful transition. It could be the difference between being unemployable and being gainfully employed.
Such matters, among many, are the problems people like myself face as we re-enter society. I am releasing to your community in July and I’m well aware of the challenges that I and all other convicted felons face when we are released. I’ve written this letter as an educational tool, one that may bring up just a few of the unseen issues and questions as we talk about budgets and shortfalls. Is there a direct correlation between shortsighted policy and recidivism? I say Yes!
I believe everyone has a responsibility to come together and look for solutions to the problems we face as a community. We need a real balance in our system, one that benefits everyone. I’m doing everything in my power to be a good neighbor and a contributing part of the solution upon my release. I don’t want to return to a prison system that I’ve given 25 years to. Today, I choose freedom!
Can I count on some of you to help out? I urge everyone who may be in a position to rent to, hire or even just mentor a person honestly trying to stop the cycle through our prisons, to do so. Please! Everyone deserves a chance if they’re willing to work for it. Why not be part of the solution? There would be fewer problems. History says that, put in the correct environment, success is a truth!
In 2010, our Coalition hosted the Visionary Community Opportunities Conference to discover what the problems were that our community was facing with incarceration. What were the problems we had, since the County had produced a vision to build a huge replace jail. It was like they were speculating on jail industry growth from the current jails that had just been built that could house between 300 to 400 to a new jail in phase one targeted for 800 beds, and to be expandable to 2400 beds. That sounded preposterous, it sounded backwards to what a healthy community should be striving for, and it sounded really expensive and we couldn’t figure out why they would plan for this, when we had so many other problems to solve. So we invited over 20 speakers, and had about 80 people show up to come share with us the problems they saw and how they felt we could reverse the trend, or at least do it differently. Here is the outline of the summary that we created after we heard from everyone and consolidated our ideas into a flow chart. [/st_text]
Analysis of the County Executive’s Proposal against Repair of the Existing Jail
The Fiscally-Responsible Alternative: Renovate the Existing County Jail
A scant majority of County and City Council members currently support compelling voters to a second vote (in as many years) on an extra two-tenths of 1 percent sales tax to fund a new jail. Going forward, debate on the merits of this tax proposal should rest upon some basic agreed facts. For example: the definition of a jail. Council members supporting the increased tax seem to assume that a jail is the same as a prison. The current proposed (and expandable) County plan for the LaBounty Road facility is for construction of a prison—not a jail.
Speaking generally, prisons take and hold inmates while jails—if run properly—take and release them. A jail is a county or city facility to house—on a short-term basis—misdemeanant offenders, felony offenders serving short terms, felony offenders awaiting transfer to a state prison for long-term sentences and indigent pretrial defendants who are unable to make bail.
A prison—by contrast—is a state or federal facility that houses long-term felony offenders.
Another basic agreed-upon set of facts must include an accurate accounting of who is in the jail at any given time and the status of each inmate— whether misdemeanant, short term felon, long-term felon awaiting transfer to state prison, and/or indigent defendants held pretrial for inability to pay bail. This information about the inmates in the current County jail should be provided over a specified period of time—such as a month. That “snapshot” of the jail population over time is a basic building block of a valid Needs Assessment. Current jail management has been unwilling or unable to provide that basic information about the inmates in their care, custody and control—despite years of requests to do so. The Sheriff’s apparent inability to provide this information about the County Jail population should concern all of our elected officials and citizens.
The debate over this tax and the County’s proposed plan should also include agreement on the definition of Diversion—which does not apply to a prison. Diversion is only available to reduce the inmate population of a jail. Our County Elected Officials have co-opted the term diversion, by touting all the social services and medical treatment that the new “jail” will provide inmates. This notion warps understanding. Diversion—by definition—keeps people out of jail in the first place, such as those whose primary problems are homelessness, substance abuse, mental illness and poverty. Inmates lose Medicaid coverage the moment they are incarcerated, so every effort should be to divert those who need medical treatment out of jail and into an appropriate medical facility. In addition, inmates held pretrial—some because they simply cannot afford bail—should not constitute the majority of inmates in the County Jail.
Where does the buck stop? Should those accountable for current jail conditions dominate the debate over the solutions?
Where there does appear to be agreement on basic facts is on the inadequate conditions in the County Jail to humanely house inmates, and that those conditions have worsened over time for lack of appropriate management and maintenance. Failure to provide humane housing for inmates in the Whatcom County Jail has been an issue raised by the Sheriff (ostensibly responsible for jail operations) and others for years—yet the conditions persist.
Instead of using available funds to fix the Jail, the Sheriff, Executive and Prosecuting Attorney have repeatedly insisted—without actual proof—that the current County Jail cannot be fixed and the only solution to that problem is a new jail. Meanwhile, deferred maintenance of the jail and consequent deterioration of the facility has continued, even while the County spent millions in 2013 to buy the LaBounty Road property and to design a prison-like facility with included services that should be offered outside of Jail to facilitate diversion.
So far, the Sheriff, County Executive and Prosecuting Attorney have controlled the jail planning process and they have started at the end—with a fully-designed prison facility on LaBounty Road—and have worked backward from there. This process problem is exemplified by the struggle of the Jail Stakeholders Workgroup, which was to draft a Jail Facility Use Agreement (“Agreement”) that allocated capital costs on the County Jail (without addressing the size, location and cost of the facility) and allocation of revenues to the County and the City—without any assurance that there will, in fact, be any funds left over under the County Executive’s current vague projections of capital and operating costs of his new facility.
The Workgroup was led swiftly by the Executive to “mission creep,” when the final draft of the Agreement specified the following “agreed” facts: (1) The County intends to build, own and operate a new Jail located on LaBounty Road in Ferndale; (2) the initial size (Phase I—the project is expandable) will be up to 453 beds with another 36 medical and behavioral health facility beds; (3) the County will place the Sales Tax Measure on the General Election Ballot no later than November 7, 2017; (4) the $110,100,000 estimated project cost is “preliminary;” and (5) the County will issue bonds to finance the Jail.
The preliminary estimate of $110,100,000 (according to the County Executive) establishes the cities’ payments back to the County for the first 3 or 4 years until the TOTAL COST of the jail is known and then there is a “true up” mechanism which allows for the actual cost of construction to be paid back over the 30 years amortization.
To summarize, the County and all signatory cities have all signed blank checks to saddle taxpayers with the costs of moving the jails to a prison on LaBounty Road in Ferndale, despite no real discussion of any alternative locations (or renovation of the existing jail). There is an “agreed upon” size, which is simply a starting point. It is no victory that the initial bed estimate is now (reduced) to up to 453 beds when it is based upon an expandable pod design with no explicit limits on future expansion. There is no limit on the cost of this project, or any seeming concern on the part of our elected officials that there will be an unknown “true up” three years into this project to reflect the actual total cost, for which the parties (and more specifically, the County taxpayers) will be responsible. In addition, there will be bonds issued to finance the project, but there has been no analysis of the debt capacity of Whatcom County—and the ability of the County’s 200,000 men, women and children to pay this debt back over the next 30 years.
The County CEO, the Sheriff and the Prosecuting Attorney must be held to a higher standard of care both in addressing the current inhumane conditions in the jail, and in leading a transparent discussion about whether or not to build a new jail or renovate the existing jail. Instead, they have bulldozed all opposition to lead the Jail Stakeholders Group and Bellingham City and County Councils inexorably toward a move of our current Civic Center to Ferndale, for an expandable jail with a vague cost estimate as a “placeholder,” and an actual cost to be determined years from now.
Whatcom County already has two jails: It’s Time to Renovate the Downtown Bellingham County Jail and Continue Operation of the Irongate Facility
In October 2016, Whatcom County commissioned and released an engineering report on the existing County Jail. Prior to this report by design2LAST, inc. (the “Engineering Report”), the County had no engineering study evaluating the integrity of the existing downtown Bellingham Jail. The Engineering Report found the downtown jail facility to be in fair to good condition.
The Engineering Report described the Irongate (or Division Street) minimum security facility as in “excellent condition.”
The Engineering Report outlines deficiencies in the existing jail that are “fixable.” There is a maintenance backlog, and the facility needs seismic upgrades. The Engineering Report states that:
The infill concrete masonry unit walls that we observed were all in good condition. Concrete masonry units are usually sensitive to building movement and will show signs of cracking even with minor settlement or distortion. The concrete unit masonry walls we observed did not show signs of distress.” [Engineering Report, page 48-49]
This is the County’s own report, and it refutes descriptions of the jail conditions promoted by the Sheriff and the Executive for years—used to support their new jail/prison in Ferndale. The County’s Engineering Report concludes that the existing County jail is in fair to good condition, and that repair and/or renovation is a viable option to allow for decades of use.
While the Executive Summary of the Engineering Report states that a new jail is needed, that summary statement is unsupported by any details that follow in the report. The Engineering report estimates that it would cost $32.4 million to repair and use the two jails that we already have for the next 20 years.
The County must consider this fiscally-responsible alternative to a new jail, and alternatives to incarceration that are already saving capital and operational costs.
Writer • Member since May 11, 2017
Juliette is a licensed attorney in both Washington state and Texas. After spending 15 years working in litigation for two large Houston law firms, she moved to Bellingham in 2004 and eventually became interested in studying and writing about Whatcom County government and its criminal justice system. Juliette holds a BJ in communications and news journalism from the University of Texas at Austin; and a law degree from the University of Houston Law Center.
Voices from the Inside: Part 1 -
What’s next for the Whatcom County Jail and Justice System?
Across the nationlocal jurisdictions—where 40 percent of inmates are incarcerated—have recognized that increasing incarceration does not increase public safety. In fact, there are proven alternatives to incarceration that reduce recidivism and therefore do increase public safety… link
Main Street - The Walla Walla County Jail Hit the Jail Reset - Again
Walla Walla County Assumed Management of its County Jail in 2015 and became A Leader in Criminal Justice Reform