On November 5th, we went and sent a letter to Prosecutor McEachran, WA State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the WA State Public Disclosure Commission asking for a Special Prosecutor be assigned to investigate the many election law violations in promotion of Prop 2017-1. Our request references multiple WA State codes that the Prosecutor take immediate action to protect the citizens of this community.

RCC Jail McEachran

The Restorative Community Coalition looks out for everyone. Most recently we are looking out for our members and allies whose image & copyrighted materials were co-opted for the Pro-Jail Tax movement. On October 24th, 2017 and image of a 2015 Anti-Jail Tax Rally was posted to the Whatcom Jail Facebook page with alterations depicting those same protestors as for the 2017-1 Jail Tax. Those depicted immediately called for the removal of the picture to the page & sent in complaints to Facebook. The image was removed and an “apology” issued. That was not good enough for our Board. On October 31, 2017 we issued a Request for Full Disclosure to Sheriff Bill Elfo.

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 NorthwestCitizen.com, and from extensive filings by the RestorativeCommunity.com. 

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



To:       Whatcom County Council and Council Members for the Lummi and Nooksack Nations
Council Members from Bellingham, Ferndale, Lynden, Nooksack, Everson, Blaine, Sumas

From:  Joy Gilfilen, President
Restorative Community Coalition

RE: Please pass a vote of No Confidence – Urgent Call to Action to Fix the Jail

Council members, our Whatcom County Charter calls for a balance of power between branches of government to be maintained1.  Today this balance has been distorted to allow the Executive Branch of Whatcom County Government unprecedented power.  That is a problem only rectified if the local legislative, judicial and municipal branches of government do their part to hold this Executive Branch accountable to their oaths of office.

Please stand up for balanced government.  Stand up to protect the taxpayer’s rights. Stand up against the corporate abuse of power as it has been exerted by the Whatcom County Executive Branch: they continue to push for another sales tax even as they maintain “emergency conditions” inside the jail, harming friends, relatives, our neighbors.

Our Whatcom County Executive branch continues to:

  • Avoid holding public hearings before lawmakers – so you are inadequately apprised of issues
  • Avoid full disclosure of critical facts – so that lawmakers cannot make fully informed decisions
  • Ignore the lack of a valid needs assessment – limiting your comprehension of the problem
  • Refuse to present fiscal alternatives to building a new jail – which restricts your choices
  • Operates in bad faith on contracts with the cities – like when the taxpayers said no to the jail tax in 2015, rather than listen and give a good faith attempt to solve the illegal and inhumane conditions in the jail (as due their contracts with the municipalities), they instead have been pushing to produce another convoluted, incomplete and unacceptable financial agreement. For the 2nd time they have created a similar manufactured fast track negotiating timeline to compel your compliance with their demands. (In 2015 they used this same ‘stakeholders’ strategy to convince cities to agree to a presumptive business agreement while indirectly gaining your unwitting endorsement of the tax…which means you are “ganging up” on the taxpayers.)  This makes you an accomplice to passing a deceptive and expensive tax…that is literally building prison walls around us against our will.

This is not right.  Please pass a “no confidence” vote against the Whatcom County Executive Branch for failing to adequately manage the current jail, and for failing to present an honest, fair and complete alternative plan to the Council, to the voters.  Their plan to build a jail on LaBounty Road in Ferndale is out of order and violates the sacred trust of the citizens.

  1. It is fiscally deceptive. There is no fiscal impact analysis for the taxpayers to analyze. The real cost of the jail is more likely to be $250 Million not $110 Million, according to Executive Louws in the stakeholders meeting.2 The secondary impacts of operating expenses, transportation, road improvements, legislative and administrative costs have not been calculated.  In a county with 200,000 men, women and children this is the height of fiscal irresponsibility. This is unsustainable on its face.
  2. There is no proven basis to justify “the plan”3. There is No Needs Assessment and the Sheriff cannot even tell us who is in the jail as a charged felon, a convicted felon, or as pre-trial or convicted misdemeanants.  This is evidence of basic jail mismanagement and fiduciary failure.  At the minimum the Sheriff should know who is in his jail, for he states in a letter to Executive Louws4 that “(the Sheriff) is responsible for the operations of the jail.”  The Sheriff also says, “The County Facilities Division is responsible for the maintenance and the assessment of the physical condition of the facility.” There have been no public hearings to challenge the mismanagement of the jail by the Sheriff and the Executive, nor to challenge the Prosecutor for not using prosecutorial discretion to reduce the overcrowding caused by non-violent offenders pursuant to WCC 1.28.100.   Instead, the Executive branch has been using fear of “catastrophic failures” and allegations of “dangerous felons” to force the public to pass a tax.  This is further proof of mismanagement and abuse of power by this branch.  Who is ultimately in responsible charge of the inhumane and illegal conditions that continue to exist in our jail?
  3. Citizens’ concerns about fiscal impacts, and about moving the Sheriff’s office and the jail out of the County Seat were administratively dismissed (along with hundreds of other concerns) as being “outside the scope” of planning.5 This was done in the Final Environmental Impact Statement by the jail planners working in tandem with the Executive branch. Repeated citizen requests for accountability and for an alternative to building a huge jail outside of downtown were systematically dismissed without evidence, without hearing, using circular reasoning, or completely without adequate study. As a result, the real (civic, economic, business and jurisdictional) impacts of moving the County Seat have not been measured.  The familial, physical, economic and social impacts on inmates and their families have not been considered. No comprehensive analysis was done.On page FS-2, they state “Under the No Action Alternative it is assumed that the current facilities (the main jail in downtown Bellingham and the work center in Bellingham) would continue to be used.”  Then there is no additional backup research done in the FEIS to show how that could happen. On November 11, 2013 when presenting a fast track summary of the FEIS to the County Council, both Executive Louws and DLR Group tell the County Council that “No public Hearing is required” before you (the Council) are legally able to purchase the land in 10 days from the date they published the FEIS report to the web (Nov. 8, 2013).   (Coincidentally that is the same 10 days they had an option to purchase the LaBounty property or it would expire).  Inevitably, this put the Council under pressure and duress to buy the land in the remaining 7-day high pressure timeframe.  With no public hearings needed, the land was purchased summarily at a value of about $150,000 an acre – for 40 acres, rough half of which would need another $10 Million in mitigation before the land could even be built on.  This is abuse of power.
  1. Failed due process, failed contract management.6 The public paid millions of dollars for studies, a promised Needs Assessment, and for the EIS, SDEIS and FEIS reports which were designed to  provide two alternatives.  Taxpayers did their job.  Yet these reports are flawed.  They did not
    deliver to the public what was expected.  Taxpayers repeatedly asked for accountability:

    • Did not get a Needs Assessment to replace the flawed report that projected a 2400 bed jail.
    • Asked that the downtown jail be fixed immediately to be humane and safe – it wasn’t.
    • In 2015 voters rejected the Jail Tax, saying no new jail – instead we are being pressured again.
    • Asked for fiscal analysis and reports of options – there has been no response.
    • Need recovery housing, mental/behavioral health solutions – very little action.
    • Need inclusion/transparency in due process – instead voices have been deliberately excluded
    • Need decency and fiduciary accountability to the inmates, family, and citizens – no response.

Instead we’ve got another convoluted agreement that is out of order, that is intended to convince all of us to pass another jail tax under pressure.  We taxpayers now know that building a jail by going into unsustainable debt will not solve the underlying problems we have. Taxpayers demand more. We need honesty.  We need transparency.  We need facts.  We need public hearings. We need solutions…not a bigger hole to fall into.

Maybe our representatives should stop negotiating with an Executive branch that is operating in bad faith. You are the lawmakers.  You are the citizen’s only line of defense to protect our constitutional rights and to hold our executive/financial branches accountable to their fiscal and fiduciary responsibilities.

Businesses work on facts.  The democratic government should likewise work on facts.   All of the cities and tribal nations have written contracts with Whatcom County, expecting their arrested citizens to be cared for in a safe and humane manner.  When that County fails to live up to their responsibilities, then you are obligated to hold the County to those contracts and to local, state and federal laws.  By doing nothing, you are defacto condoning the mismanagement of the jail and are party to the ongoing violation of civil rights that are happening inside the jail.

Right now, you are in a position to look at the long-term impact of the decisions you make today, and to think about what your legacy will be 30 years from now.  Your choice is to lead with other Washington State Counties7 in criminal justice reform and fiscal responsibility, or to make a decision that puts Whatcom County further behind in criminal justice reform and deeper in debt than a county this size can support.

Here are things that can be done.

  1. Make the Executive branch officials do the work we entrusted (and paid) them) to do. Top Priority: Fix the Jail! Get us out of crisis management.
  2. Do a Needs Assessment and a fiscal analysis of options that provides adequate and rational data
  3. Hold cross silo town halls and public hearings on the location, on the impact of technology on corrections options today, on different solutions to heal people from trauma, addiction and mental illness
  4. Examine economic development alternatives that include recovery housing, business incubators, small town cooperatives that inspire free enterprise and renewable industry
  5. Let the Incarceration and Prevention Task Force & the Vera Institute deliver their substantive findings and recommendations on how our members of the law and justice system can streamline the administration of our courts, police and law and justice systems. Help them help us all intercept and then stop inadvertent waste that creeps into all bureaucracies over time
  6. Invite local non-profits and others to present proposals, projects and ideas about how to fix the deeper problems so we can reverse the trends of creating more laws and more concrete walls that lock people up instead of mentoring people to freedom

There are choices.  There are options.  We are a community, and our community needs leaders.
Please join us in changing course.


1 Whatcom County Charter adopted effective May 1, 1979

2 Executive Jack Louws at Whatcom County Stakeholders Meeting

3 Illusion of Inclusion series of articles in Northwest Citizen by Juliette Daniels starting May 11, 2017

4 Letter from Sheriff Elfo to Executive Louws re: Jail by Sheriff Bill Elfo April 22, 2015

5 Final Environmental Impact Statement dated Nov. 8, 2013 – appendix G – over 100 pages.

6 Examine the EIS, SDEIS, FEIS, and the ongoing public records for written and oral public comments repeatedly given to the Whatcom County Council, to the Jail Task Force, to Jay Farbstein, to the Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force from 2011 to 2017.

7 “Evidence Based Jail Planning Processes” series of four articles on NorthwestCitizen.com by Juliette Daniels – starting June 13, 2017

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