News, Testimonials, Stories About Our Members & Friends


Wow!  Check out this County in Oregon!  While Whatcom County could easily have been the leader in justice reform, we just got ACE’s by Multnomah!  Whatcom County could learn from them!  And there is more to do, if the County will stop pretending that they need to build a jail – a public safety building – instead of providing the public’s safety!   People need help right now more than ever!  Follow the new leaders, and then learn and change!

What happens to people when they get arrested? Most people don’t know because no-one really wants to talk about it.

Why not? Joy Gilfilen, President of the Restorative Community Coalition, did a quest to find out.  It is disturbing to the soul. People who get arrested go through dramatic arrest shock and jail trauma before they ever even get to 1st Appearance. Before they meet any Public Defender, before bail. There is no safety zone at all.

Joy interviewed 79 people in an ethnographic research study inquiry:

  • 53 people had been arrested and went through the Whatcom County Jail and Justice System from beginning to end. All were still dealing with a lifetime of ripple effects.
  • These interviews caused her to interview another 26 who were friends, family, employers, criminal defense attorneys. There were employees of the system – police, defenders, prosecutors, clerks and other staff, jailers, emergency responders, hospital and mental health providers, and investigative writers. There were people of diverse demographics, education and financial class.
  • Of the 79 people, all were deeply concerned about the system. They were willing to talk about it for the purpose of hoping they could help fix it, and they had worked with the Coalition and had built up a level of trust.  These were not easy conversations – for the subject is emotionally traumatizing to talk about.  Each of the conversations were approximately 3 to 5 hours each.


Unexpectedly, Joy found in every case that the trauma starts at 1st contact with the law enforcement – often typically at the point of a 911 or EMS call. 

  1. The incident triggers a whole string of events…from immediate reactions, then through an arrest, booking and jail.
  2. All along there are unanticipated and surprising costs that accrue inside and outside the justice system.
  3. Unexpected things happen to everyone who gets involved – there is no preparing for the process.
  4. Investigations and evaluations compound and more costs accrue sometimes before charging and often right away – as if people are guilty upon arrest.
  5. Eventually people get to court – and enter the halls and chambers of an interminable justice system where the language is unknown, the hoops, excessive fines, fees and extra costs overwhelm.

This study was enlightening – and shocking – when Joy recognized how many people are directly emotionally and dramatically harmed at the point of 1st Contact with a 911 or law enforcement call.

The extreme implicit bias and pre-conceptions of people is set up before anyone realizes what happens. Ironically this is due to excessive rules and regulation style measures being put in place. The impacts have increased as a result of technology, fear-mongering, and habitualized responses by institutions.

All of this is a recipe for creating and inflicting extreme trauma that derail entire families. A single arrest can throw an entire family into deep poverty for life. The arrest itself can cause breakups, mental illness, generational destruction. The good news is that once we understand what happens, we can see that the habits of doing this can be changed, and it is possible to intercept the cycle early.

This is podcast 1 of a multi-set of JoyTalks: Blindspots. 
There will be a several in this series of Blindspots. LOCALLY we now know it is possible to intervene earlier in the process and stop the recidivism cycle BEFORE it starts, saving taxpayers potentially millions of dollars in unsustainable punishment systems.  And it is probable that we can do this in this county if our officials can see the return on investment to the taxpayers.  Once intercepted, it can change the habit patterns of entire institutional systems that are co-dependent on arresting people.  It is to that end that Joy did this work to understand the needs of this population, and to understand how to speak with law enforcement and bureaucratic officials who have no way to hear this information.



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

What are the “true costs” of incarceration? It’s complicated.

It’s ultimately a contrarian lose/lose/lose game.

People try to simplify the question of the growth of mass incarceration as a Good Guy vs. Bad Guy problem.  Or as a good vs. evil problem.  Or as a safety problem, like how we used the Sheriff out west to solve the range wars before we had modern day crime-fighters.

No.  These are all false hero-villian misnomers that have been cultivated by decades of avoiding the original class or racial biases that arose from from slavery and genocide and developed into mass incarceration.

They avoid examining the misuse of the law and justice system as it has been commandeering and by a big business economic game that runs the power grid of a civic community.  It is a game running  below the surface, hidden in plain sight in polite, privileged social circles – where people don’t want to talk about the misery of conflict and the devastation of their family members by a flawed system.

It hurts.

So instead, leaders of commerce and industry, of institutions and the law deny, avoid and coverup to pretend that it is ok to keep doing the same thing.  Typically because we don’t know how to solve such a huge, systemic  problem.

The problem has been covered up by the story that punishment is the antidote to crime, and that increasing taxes are the antidote to a failing business model.  The story has sold and propped up entire market segments.  And it has worked to help us stay busy so we, the people, don’t have to address the debilitating fact that abuse addiction, punishment, jail to prison pipeline business patterns have been formed in our marketplace and they are truly business patterns, sales systems, and dramas that do not work for a country that prides itself on the ideal of freedom.


This story that people are “criminals who deserve to be punished” is a flawed belief that is unsustainable.

It is a story this is debilitating, and it is harming people for real.

It has taken years to examine and diagram the sales, marketing and business problem up close and personal in our local jail and justice system.  It started as research into how it was that our top three elected law enforcement officials kept striving to pass a huge jail tax to build a big prison-like, (but supposedly local jail).  But they did not have a true Needs Assessment and the plan did not pass muster, so over time the voters kept raising objections and resistance and we kept voting it down.

But these officials (with a 44 year veteran prosecutor) kept trying to bully us into buying it.  So our Coalition started researching it.  We went deeper and deeper into the social and political psychosis of the problem.  Today we have finally diagrammed the flawed business model to our satisfaction.

This illustration is the story of how the money drives the hidden dynamics of the game.  It is a diagram of how the big money is extracted from citizens to flow through and drive a highly complex tax addictive and abuse driven business model.  It illustrates how the market for government and jail services locally is just one conversation.  That spawns the demand for state and regional business growth in different sectors,.  Then how it guts and consumes the people and the families who get caught in the system.

In other words, the business model (sold as being tough on crime, or as public safety) is underwritten by the people through our taxes and our trust of the legal authorities.  The people who become the prey are those who are poor, abused and broken by trauma and fear become the commodity.  that churns through the system repeatedly.  Each person who fails increases in value to the economic system.  So as the recidivism rate increases, the mass incarceration industry expands.  It is a vicious and closed loop  system that profits on the destruction of people.

The good news is that the story is a poor habit.  Fear a poor habit, the business model is a poor habit.

And destructive habits can be changed and replaced by regenerative habits that yield a different result.

Over decades as the costs of jailing people have escalated and the criminal justice system has failed economically and socially, the politicians, the media and the industries that profit from mass incarceration have covered up the problem.  WE can change the habit when we understand it.

Hear is the habit of behavior we can change, as people across the nation:

  • The problem has been an emotional hot potato.  So people are vulnerable to manipulation.  So, lets simply talk about it.
  • Fiscally it has been a nightmare for the local, state and national economy.  So let’s stop putting money into jail expansion and instead invest iin people, in health, in recovery. We will get a better return for the taxpayers dollars.
  • It is a political nightmare since leadership has been lacking solutions.  Well, the next few years are significant times to bring up innovative solutions and implement them.  Let’s do that.

This whole thing is a trillion dollar media, marketing and political self-destructive business economy that is profiteering off the self-destruction.  So let’s stop buying into it…let’s build an economy that revitalizes our local communities, our people.  Let’s start healing people from the grassroots up. Start looking for solutions in your community, and share them.

Invest in people, instead of extracting from them.  It works. It is a self-renewing business model.  We will be sharing more soon.

Statement on Nationwide Prison Strike

NEW YORK, NY – Today, incarcerated men and women in prisons across 17 states began a  19 day strike to draw attention to the poor conditions they face and to demand change for all those who live and work in prisons across the country.

Nicholas Turner, President of the Vera Institute of Justice, released the following statement:

“Our country has a long and fraught history of dehumanizing incarceration, rooted in racial oppression. The fundamental experience remains one of hardship and isolation that produces irreparable harm. It is imperative that Americans listen closely to the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee. Through the Nationwide Prison Strike, the committee and its allies are forcefully protesting conditions that affect the lives of 2.2 million people who are locked up, their families and their communities. These are conditions that the American public has neglected – malignly – for years. Different from other elements of justice reform where people can see evidence that undermines the flawed assumptions that the system is working – videos of police brutality, imposition of bail in public courtrooms – most people are blind when it comes to prison conditions. What happens behind those grey walls is obscured from public view. This is what the committee is telling us.

Radical change and reimagining is needed—not only to disrupt the habit of current practices, but also to break with historical legacy. We stand with the men and women in prisons nationwide who are peacefully advocating for their rights, and we urge the reshaping of the practice of imprisonment by grounding it in a foundational commitment to human dignity.”

Noble Cause Corruption Report

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.

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  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.

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.

By Juliette DanielsOn Jul 08, 2017

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.


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.

Juliette Daniels

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.

Implement Local Justice Reform Now
It’s a better solution for taxpayers – Find Out Why!

After 8 years of research, our Coalition finally realized that the private prison industrial complex has filtered down to dominate the business of local jails as well. We figured out that if we want to reverse mass incarceration nationally, the real leverage point is at the local level, where taxpayers control taxes, laws, and the business of managing our justice system.

Re:  Stop Whatcom County Jail MisManagement – Fix the Jail Now!

By Joy Gilfilen, submitted to Whatcom County Council and Bellingham City Council 07-02-2017

Whatcom County’s self-proclaimed decade of expanding jail problems and constant crisis about overcrowding, accompanied by no self-correction, is defacto proof of “mismanagement.”  It’s time to stop.

Stop Crisis MisManagement* – No Excuses.

  1. Emergency conditions are self-inflicted, self-controlled, self-regulated and can be fixed immediately.
  2. Confirmed by Prosecutor/court, Sheriff/jail, Executive/admin and “jail builder/contractor” records.
  3. Under the direct control of: Prosecutor (1) – Sheriff (1) – Jail Chief (1) – Executives (2) – Deputy Executives (2) who interpret the rules (and make some); control contracts (write them) and then administer business, budgets, projects and flow to meet their own timelines and demands.
  4. Officials have legal ways to reduce the ‘crisis’ and fix the “catastrophic risk” problem, yet don’t.
  • The taxpayers have been paying (3) .1% sales taxes extra towards solutions – each tax worth 3 to 4 Million annually…starting with imposed .1% in 1999; approved .1% in 2004; approved .1% in 2008. Return on investment result?  Poor quality jail maintenance even as military style equipment, SWAT, fleets, armoring and technology to track people increases.
  • Taxpayers built a brand new medium security 150 bed jail for use by 2006. Instead of reducing crowding, jail industries expanded.  This increased the over-criminalizing and over-incarcerating of non-violent people even as statistical arrest trends for serious and juvenile crime was going down.
  • Whatcom County Code requires (and provides legal means) to reduce over-crowding.  Rather than use the rules, they instead violate these laws and doubled down by changing rules to restrict release.
    • “Good time” rules changed from 1/3rd to 1/6th early release (making people serve more time).
    • They add restrictions/change rules that made it harder to for people to qualify for good time
  • Constricted use of therapeutic courts against logic. When drug court was receiving awards for effectiveness, the Prosecutor changed rules to make it harder to enter, harder to graduate.

Reality Check: People are harmed daily on this watch, by those in responsible charge.

This is a jail, not a prison.  It is to hold short-term inmates, the public and the taxpayers safe.  In fact, the system has become a crossroads for corrections or condemnation. The assumption is that people arrested and accused have the right to be “innocent until proven guilty” – not punished at arrest.  These are local people from our community who will return to our community. Unfortunately, in Whatcom County consequences of an arrest have become both excessive and unnecessary.

  1. Results show there are suicides, brain damage, death, irreversible emotional trauma caused inside.
  2. An estimated 60-80% of those people inside the jail are non-violent and not yet convicted.
  3. An arrestee (and their families) have incurred hidden costs of $10,000 or more just for an arrest.
  4. Money is paid to the County, to attorneys, to private jail industry contractors (privateers), etc.
  5. Arrestees will accept plea bargains (even when “not guilty as charged”) just to get out of the system. Unknowingly this starts a chain of events that sparks a lifetime of continuous poverty and punishment inflicted by subsequent social, technological and bureaucratic ripple effects.

Grassroots Interception Required:  Lawmakers have an obligation to intervene.

Right now is the optimal point of maximum impact to make a course correction.  Before you pass any more taxes and provide a free ride to another level of mismanagement.  Right now is the only time to leverage your influence on behalf of taxpayers to establish true justice, liberty and freedom.

Everyone already knows that writing new jail use agreements does not solve the problem.  Getting mayors to agree to spend unapproved funds does not solve the problem.  Deflecting or denial does not solve the problem.  Buying and selling a new sales tax does not solve the problem.  Building a 3rd jail on 40 acres that has built-in plans to expand from 492 beds to 2400 beds and beyond does not solve the problem. Expanding the Sheriff’s headquarters to 2.5 acres doesn’t solve the problem.  Moving the jail outside of the County Seat does not solve the problem.  These are not the solutions. They are sales tactics.  Every one of these actions compounds the problem and creates escalating damage.

Solution:  Legislative Power obligates you to Stop Abuse.  Say NO.

  1. Stop Punishing. Stop punishing arrestees, families and employees who are in harm’s way. Stop punishing councils, public servants, and activists who have spent years in citizen defense. Stop punishing taxpayers.  Taxpayers are all of us who pay the bills that support the government.  Taxpayers sit at the top of the Whatcom County organizational chart.  We said No in 1997.  They invoked a tax in 1999 anyway.  So we passed taxes in 2004 and 2008.  It got worse. We finally said NO again in 2015.
  2. Intervene.  Declare a vote of “No Confidence” in a flawed plan.  Demand better.  Demand facts, assessments, better options – then crosscheck for truth.  Challenge allegations that “one big expandable jail in the county is the only option”. Ask the Executive to prove their recommendation and their alleged “Needs Assessment” in a transparent public hearing. Let the public examine the facts for validity, logic and relevancy to current conditions.  492 beds is not a “compromise.”  It is a green light to the Sheriff to use the pod design to expand to 2400 beds the instant the forever sales tax is authorized.
  3. Course Correct. Fix the jail immediately.  Get out of chaos, out of crisis. Just say NO to the idea that only taxes and new jails fix mismanagement.  That is illogical.  It doesn’t work.   

Action 1:  Fix the Jail!  Take URGENT Emergency Management Action

Priority #1:  Stop Hemorrhaging. Fix the inhumane conditions in the jail.

No excuses. People are being harmed on your watch. Assume no new money, no new tax. Convene an emergency team of County, City and Public representatives to do one thing:  Correct the inhumane conditions in both Jail #1 and Jail #2 immediately. Use the Design2Last recommendations for immediate physical guidance.  Assess all hands on deck, all resources and all facilities available for use.  Examine using Division Street differently, use South Campus, the old Pioneer Services building on Irongate, move the Sheriff into the Emergency Operations Facility at the airport, facilitate non-profits to bring ideas forward to expand safe and sane housing, open vacant buildings for community services, empower volunteer reentry mentoring, implement restorative justice solutions, (list is long).  Invite new service providers to open dual diagnosis facilities. Allow creativity and grassroots solutions.

Priority #2:  Constrict Inflow.  Implement high OFN/high ROI corrections ASAP.   

Identify all emergency solutions that come from Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force (IPRTF) members such as judges, public defenders, staff, and from non-profit and citizen representatives who are working in the field.  Rate implementation by Optimal Frugal Need (OFN) – what is the least cost/highest impact action that will get the highest return on investment for money and time spent, that is within your immediate control?  1) Highest Impact/High Control is at point of first contact.  Whenever possible use prevention tools with officers/non-profit discretion to support trauma interception, intervention, diversion, and restorative justice tools ASAP.  Use OFN to stop people from entering the jail in the first place.  2) Highest Control/High Impact: Expedite administrative actions at OFN inside system with inmates and courts to reduce ALS (average length of stay). This de-escalates trauma and reduces costs everywhere.  3) High Impact/Lower Control: Provide Exit options (at OFN) for low risk/non-violent people ASAP. Consider using restorative circles and restorative justice to reduce fines and restore people to wholeness.  Provide ReEntry OFN support to reduce recidivism rate.

Action 2:  Examine Legal and Systems Options – Adjust and Correct Flaws

Priority #3:  Fix System Failures.  Use facts to correct local law and justice system.   

Use the VERA Institute’s statistical analysis of the recently delivered jail facts and historical data to understand your clients, your law enforcement arrest patterns, jailing patterns, identify criminal justice trends to see problem areas that can be improved.  Make course corrections. Overlay with the 38 administrative mapping issues that help the IPRTF to make smart, evidence based internal, legal and administrative corrections to yield better results for law enforcement, the courts and the taxpayers. Make course corrections.

Priority #4:  Local Justice Reform: Do a Market Study & Social Costs Impact Analysis

Most policymakers, law enforcers, and court staff in charge of administering the law enforcement, justice and private jail industry support systems do not know the consequences of an arrest on a person, on the family, and on the community in today’s world.  For policymakers to make smart choices for the future, it is essential that we acknowledge and examine the negative, hidden impacts of market forces that have changed the entire landscape and context of corrections.  Then find new emerging solutions, and create plans to correct and mitigate in ways that support public safety and empowerment.

Example:  A college student arrested in Whatcom County often incurs $10,000 or more in damages by the arrest alone.  It can change their entire career, causing loss of funding, inability to enter certain fields.  Even if found not-guilty, the compound unintended consequences of just a ticket being written, or an arrest going in the newspaper, can irrationally condemn the person to a lifetime of poverty, persecution and punishment that is way out of proportion to the original violation.   This serves no one.

Think about it:  What is the cost of losing a 20 year old into the incarceration funnel?  Simple math shows that if they go into it on and off for 40 years x $50,000/yr = $2 Million per person in tax losses.  Add in the social costs at a multiplier factor of 11x = total costs is $22 Million dollars to the taxpayers and family having to pay for it.

We could instead train them at a blue collar job or at Harvard, and recover our investment millions of times over if we did it differently.  Obviously something is wrong with this picture.  One investment destroys, one empowers.  We can start to empower people locally at a fraction of this cost.

We have the ingenuity locally to create a new business operating model for managing corrections and incarceration.  We can review all contracts and make smart business corrections that help redirect taxpayer dollars back into the local market so the community gets the benefit of reinvestment multipliers.  Divest from co-dependence on international jail contractor industries by using local food, practitioner and service providers. Rebuild the community business model so it is local focused, regenerative, and responsive to local needs and conditions.

Action 3:   Do a True Needs Assessment, Fiscal Analysis, and Market SWOT Analysis.

Then you will have a basis upon which to talk to the taxpayers about a raise.  Or maybe at that point we will all know if there can be more systems reductions.  Until then, it is a waste of time.  Taxpayers said no.  No means NO.  No more excuses.  No more taxes.  We need help to fix the jail. We need leaders to step forward now.

*Facts and statements can be verified by examination of public records and documents.  They are available via sources such as:  Whatcom County public records, through minutes of Whatcom County Council, in the Final Environmental Impact Statement process from 2010-2013, in the Incarceration Prevention & Reduction Task Force minutes, audios and handouts, in Bellingham City Council public records, in the Noble Cause Corruption documents filed with the Public Disclosure Commission on April 27, 2016 and currently accessible online in articles called the Illusion of Inclusion series written by Juliette Daniels, and by other investigative writers such as Tip Johnson, David Camp at, and from extensive filings by the 

Discover why Whatcom County is A Pioneer in jail reform.
Our Community refuses to endorse mass incarceration, because privateering is the business model that underlays it. It creates A profiteering motive that undercuts the local economy, harms citizens and their families, consumes taxpayer dollars and creates poverty. This is born out by statistics and deep research. This video is A short course that explains the problem to the average person. This powerpoint was created for civic education, so that the community could understand the school to prison pipeline from a business standpoint.

Please say no to building bigger jails and instead invest in restorative economic solutions.

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