Whatcom County Jail Trauma Chart

This is a summary chart of an ethnographic research study of seventy-nine (79) people who have been dealing directly with the law and justice system in Whatcom County. The case study interviews were conducted by Joy Gilfilen, a civic systems researcher and President of the Restorative Community Coalition for nine years. Her goal was to talk with people who were directed impacted by an arrest in the family, to map out their experience and to find out from them where the system is broken and could be improved.

An unexpected finding was discovering the intense, high impact emotional trauma that is endured when someone is suddenly accused of a crime, taken captive, held in an hostile environment under duress, scrutized and examined in a highly intense compressed timeframes where they have no protection and no capacity to defend themselves. This chart synthesizes the emotional shocks endured, along with the physical, familial, mental and psychological impacts on the people interviewed in the case study group.

This diagram is limited to illustrating what kinds of impacts are felt during the time that elapses between a 911 call to the time an arrested person gets to their 1st Appearance in Court – which could be up to 72 hours. During that period of time their body (corpus) becomes a commodity that the authorities control.

1st Appearance: 
None of the symptoms shown on this chart are mitigated prior to 1st Appearance in court.  This is when the person arrested and accused of a crime  first finds out the charges filed against them by the Prosecutor, their value is set by the bail that is brokered, and their right to be free is negotiated, and they are assigned a Public Defender to essentially manage the paperwork of the courts for the accused.

This chart doesn’t show this economic or legal sequence of impacts and losses.  It does not include the impacts of economic, social, or job related ripple effects that follow as a as a consequence of an arrest, nor does it include the emotional impacts of what happens when a person is held in jail pending court, plea bargaining,or probation. That information will be provided in a separate document.

The synthesis of symptoms described in this chart are limited to what happens at the onset of a situation – from the point of a 911 call. This is when an unsuspecting accused person is suddenly placed in an extreme hazardous emotional and psychological conditions that are unfamiliar, debilitating, and whole-systems traumatizing.

The Accelerating Impact – RADD-RAT Symptoms: 
The interviews showed that even when people were perfectly well before the incident, the experience of dealing with the initial shock of whatever happened escalates in a short time to produce Radicalized Acute Distress under Duress (RADD) symptoms. The interviews showed how people at the point of being held captive, especially in the jail, then experience compounding traumatic emotions defined as Repetitive Accelerating Trauma (RAT) symptoms.

The intense accumulation of unrelieved emotional pressure compresses creating sustained emotional terror. Many described it as living in two worlds, confused by the inability

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After analyzing data about Whatcom County’s Justice system for the Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force, dated November 2017, the Vera Institute of Justice published a report that identified “the following factors contributing to jail overuse in Whatcom County:

  • Most admissions (62%) into the jail had non-felony charges as the most serious charge.
  • Charges related to substance use are a significant driver of both admissions and lengths of stay.
  • People who are pre-trial make up a significant portion of the Average Daily Population of the jail.
  • It is likely that some of the people in the jail have behavioral health needs that would be better served in the community Nearly one-third (32%) of people  admitted to jail were referred to jail behavioral health services.
  • The Whatcom County Superior, District, and Bellingham Municipal Courts are not meeting prescribed time standards for resolving cases.
  • Native American, Black, and Hispanic people are over-represented in the jail population.”

Our Coalition has been interviewing people who have been arrested, jailed and who have gone through the justice system.  We have found that at the street level analysis that virtually all the people who get arrested for non-violent situations, are getting arrested because they are emotionally hurting in the first place.  Their emotional vulnerability caused them to make a mistake of some kind that turned into an accident or unfortunate incident.  Specifically they may have used poor judgement, were impaired by self-medicating with alcohol or with legal or illegal drugs, or they were distressed and dealing with an emotional upheaval in their life.

We found that a high number of these people would be far better served by being diverted out of the “jail and punishment based system” to get help with emotional resilience, conflict resolution, social coping and life skills.  It would yield a far better return to the citizens, to their families and to our community rather than throwing them into a destructive spiral that causes them to losing their capacity to get back to work.

Reading the chart above shows the debilitating sequence of destruction that afflicts families after a family member makes a mistake and gets into trouble by an arrest and jailing.

It is counterproductive to a healthy community, and directly contributes to poverty.

Guest Opinion – Lynden Tribune – 01/25-2012

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!

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