Community

Rethinking criminal justice reform

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

As the United States continues to jail people at a rate higher than any other country in the world, community stakeholders from public safety, social services, local government and community health are taking action to reform our local criminal justice system through Whatcom County’s Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Taskforce.

Mass incarceration has created a school-to-prison pipeline that tears parents away from their children, jails nonviolent offenders for too long and locks up people of color at a disproportionate rate–a statistic that is not only represented nationally, but also at our local jail. In an effort to curtail excessive incarceration, the taskforce is charged with recommending to the Whatcom County Council solutions for behavioral health treatment, a new triage center and new legal and justice programs. If we could improve our criminal justice system, how would we do it and what would it look like?

Beyond the more narrow discussions of immediate incarceration prevention and reduction in our local jail, several taskforce members have been examining long-term, generational measures as a guiding element of reform.

That process has led to big-picture conversations: Are we too late by the time an individual has already entered the criminal justice system as an adult (or a juvenile, for that matter)? What if we were able to help people cope with addiction and provide better access to mental health services, rather than locking them up in jail? What could be the long-term impact of investments in early childhood development and youth intervention?

For more than a year, as your Bellingham City Council’s representative on the taskforce, I’ve traveled across the state to meet with judges, public defenders, prosecutors, police and social service providers in Seattle, Spokane, Everett, and Shoreline. Everett has developed a program that addresses “high utilizers of systems:” people who come into contact with police, fire, courts and the emergency room far more often than average citizens. Shoreline has a program that could reduce or eliminate deadly use of force situations by providing officers with individualized information about people with mental health illness who may come into contact with police.

Seattle has its Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program that works to rid the system of the “arrest, incarcerate, release, repeat” cycle for low-level, nonviolent drug and prostitution offenses.

It is essential that communities across Washington state look at strategies and policies at all levels—from “upstream” interventions that support struggling families and youth—especially those who are traditionally underserved—to “downstream” solutions like re-entry housing and employment programs. Mental health and substance use treatment, including beds, facilities and programs, must be a priority at every level of government. And we must be clear that many solutions will exist outside of any reforms we make in our criminal justice system and fall more in the realms of public health, social services, housing and jobs.

There are no shortage of problems: Due to overcrowding and booking restrictions enacted by the Whatcom County Sheriff, Bellingham is often forced to send its inmates to Yakima, which causes a new complexity to the process while posing a strain on families of offenders and those awaiting trial. A 141-bed regional substance-use disorder treatment center in Sedro-Woolley is scheduled to close in 2018 without guarantee of replacement. Bellingham’s low-vacancy housing market persists, often keeping both victims and released or diverted offenders from obtaining stable housing.

These challenges perpetuate the cycle we are trying to overcome.

Amid these issues, Bellingham has become a regional leader in providing diversion through Electronic Home Monitoring for low-level, carefully screened nonviolent offenders. This program saved Bellingham taxpayers more than $300,000 since the beginning of 2016, and helped reduce Bellingham’s misdemeanant population in the downtown jail by 25 percent.

Last year, the city’s funding for housing and social services totaled more than $10 million. Bellingham is moving in the right direction on prevention, intervention and diversion, but we must do even more.

In thinking about new ways to tackle the problem through regional information sharing and cooperation, we can continue to turn the corner and move in the right direction, reducing victimization and helping individuals and families to flourish outside of incarceration.

Dan Hammill has served on the Bellingham City Council since December 2014 and serves as a representative on the Whatcom County Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Taskforce. He can be reached at 360-778-8213 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Sugar Ray
Past Columns
Salish Sea Science

January 23, 2019

Cherry Point Amendments

January 16, 2019

Invest in the Future

September 26, 2018

A Desperate Call

August 29, 2018

Criminalizing Protest

July 18, 2018

Threshold Fund

June 13, 2018

Imprisoned Splendour

May 9, 2018

Pathways to Homeownership

April 25, 2018

Yes on I-1631

April 11, 2018

Divide-and-Conquer

October 11, 2017

Schools and Planning for Growth

September 27, 2017

Electronic Home Monitoring

September 13, 2017

Events
Today
A Forest of Words Poetry Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Skagit Birding Adventures

9:00am|Skagit Valley

Literacy Council Seeks Volunteers

10:00am

Makerspace Classes

5:00pm|Bellingham Makerspace

Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

7:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

The Addams Family

7:00pm|Ferndale High School

Shakespeare in Love

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

West Side Story

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Whatcom Falls Park

Wild Things

9:30am|Interurban Trail

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Peace Vigil

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Fourth Friday Art Walk

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Bellingham Youth Jazz Band

7:00pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

The Book of Help

7:00pm|Village Books

Always...Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

Salish Sea Early Music Festival

7:30pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Heavy Metal

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall.

Richard III

7:30pm|Phillip Tarro Theater

Cupid's Arrow

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Serial Killers, Episode Four

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

MacMaster and Leahy
Tomorrow
A Forest of Words Poetry Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Skagit Birding Adventures

9:00am|Skagit Valley

Literacy Council Seeks Volunteers

10:00am

The Addams Family

7:00pm|Ferndale High School

Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

7:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

Shakespeare in Love

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

West Side Story

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Always...Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

Cupid's Arrow

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Richard III

7:30pm|Phillip Tarro Theater

Fragrance Lake 50K

6:00am|Larrabee State Park

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #154

Smelt Run

9:00am|La Conner High School

Children's Literature Conference

9:00am|Performing Arts Center

Community Work Party

9:00am|Squalicum Creek

Whatcom Falls 5K

10:00am|Whatcom Falls Park

Assistance League Anniversary Sale

10:00am|Assistance League

Kids Cooking Class

11:00am|Chuckanut Center

Recreation Northwest EXPO

11:00am|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Hearty Party 5K

11:00am|Max Higbee Center'

Wildlife Photography with Andy Porter

11:00am|Padilla Bay Estuarine Research Reserve

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Tax Help Available

12:30pm|First Congregational Church

Wine Tasting with Duckhorn Vineyards

2:00pm|Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants

"Beatlemania/Beatlemedia

2:00pm|Blaine Library

Forestry and Wildlife Panel

2:00pm|Ferndale Library

Waterway Tour

2:00pm| I & J Waterway

Wildfire and Resilience

3:00pm|Deming Library

The Fellowship of Fire

4:00pm|Village Books

Dancer Panel

5:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Visions from Cape Breton and Beyond

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Bayshore Symphony

7:30pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

An Evening with Steve Mayo

7:30pm|Lummi Island Library

Village Books Trove Web
Sunday
A Forest of Words Poetry Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Skagit Birding Adventures

9:00am|Skagit Valley

Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

7:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Bayshore Symphony

7:30pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Drag Brunch, Celebrity Impersonation

11:00am|Rumors Cabaret

History Tour

12:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Seabirds of the Salish Sea

1:00pm|REI

Audubon at the Museum

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Interfaith Music Festival

3:00pm|First Congregational Church

Art of Jazz

4:00pm|The Majestic

Heavy metal Hollywood

4:00pm

Clover Group Reading

4:00pm|Village Books

see our complete calendar »

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