Jails, Sheriffs and Carceral Policymaking is a useful law review article about the “hidden to the public” story of the business of incarceration that verifies the hands-on research done in Whatcom County by the Restorative CommUnity Coalition.
When we started, our work was striving to help people who got out of imprisonment to learn how to reorient themselves to a changed world – successfully. So we started with reentry. Then we realized that there was also a problem with court navigation, with emergency help for families when 911 was called and families needed help dealing with someone who got arrested. Then there is the problem of helping those families whose main provider was removed from the household, and then we ran into the jail industry. Head-on.
We realized that the jail industry building contractors/consultants had written a business plan for passing more taxes and building a 2450 bed jail in our county…for a population at the time of around 200,00 people. It didn’t make sense. We already had three jails, three earmarked taxes were already funding their operations above and beyond what used to be spent on them. Then there was another tax for Behavioral Health Services.
We had a problem. It was an upside down problem we had not encountered before. We knew it was being promoted aggressively by the Whatcom County Sheriff, the Whatcom County Executive, and the Whatcom County Prosecutor. Why weren’t they promoting prevention, early intervention, education, substance use treatment, reentry, trauma recovery, and more services to keep people out of jail and keep them productive in the community? Why were they not growing taxpayers, not prisoners? Why were they promoting building a mega-jail instead that would hobble all the healthy taxpayers to pay for it?
We started studying on the problem, standing up against the jail taxes, standing up for humane justice. Today we now know it was a problem with our top law enforcement CEO’s running a jail industry speculation business plan to market. The goal was to enroll taxpayers in the community to underwrite what turns out to be a long term investment in incarceration real estate to boost the schol to prison pipeline growth on the I-5 corridor to Canada.
This is an article that starts to get into the heart of how the jail industry expansion game infiltrates the local community through the law enforcement CEO’s. https://cdn.vanderbilt.edu/vu-wp0/wp-content/uploads/sites/278/2021/05/28074050/Jails-Sheriffs-and-Carceral-Policymaking.pdf
In our case, the issue started out by blaming the people for rising crime. It wasn’t quite true, but it worked to get people scared. Then the game moved to where the Sheriff was claiming he “didn’t have enough money” to manage it all – things were going to rack and ruin, so he wanted a new jail and new funding. We discovered that he had mismanaged the downtown jail to the point he could claim it was unsafe, and dangerous – due to overcrowding, operations failures, etc. We started studying on the problem, and realized we had a bigger problem: The consultants has written their “jail capacity needs assessment” as if it was a spec sheet for jail industry speculators to be impressed – so the civic leaders would buy the jail building plan because it was good business for government expansion.
There is more to come, but read this article to get an idea of what was the “more to come” story.