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).

Past Columns
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
Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Bellingham Dance Company's Hunchback

7:00pm|Majestic

Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Open Air Summer Rep

7:30pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Chuckanut Writers Conference

9:00am|Whatcom Community College

Wild Things

9:30am|Marine Park

Lummi Stommish Water Festival

10:00am|Lummi Nation

Coffee Tasting

3:00pm|Camber Cafe

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Whatcom Cultural Arts Festival

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Fourth Friday Art Walk

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Beachside Barbecue

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Beachside Barbecue

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Keys for Kids

5:30pm|Stepping Stones Garden

Beachside Barbecue

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Salmon Dinner Sail

6:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Little Silver

7:00pm|Blanchard Chapel

Off Broadway

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Musicals and Brawls

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
Tomorrow
Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Bellingham Dance Company's Hunchback

7:00pm|Majestic

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Open Air Summer Rep

7:30pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Chuckanut Writers Conference

9:00am|Whatcom Community College

Lummi Stommish Water Festival

10:00am|Lummi Nation

Whatcom Cultural Arts Festival

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Keys for Kids

5:30pm|Stepping Stones Garden

Off Broadway

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Musicals and Brawls

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Plant Hike

8:00am|Hannegan Pass Trail

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall

Padden Triathlon

8:30am|Lake Padden Park

March Point Run

9:00am|Andeavor Refinery

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverwalk Park

Twin Sisters Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner, North Fork Library

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am| Depot Market Square

Welcome to Chickenlandia

10:00am|Blaine Library

Lynden Farmers Market

10:00am|Centennial Park

Lummi Island Saturday Market

10:00am|Islander Grocery Store

How to Renovate an Older Urban Garden

10:00am|Roeder Home

Imagine This! Home & Landscape Tour

10:00am|Whatcom County

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Inside the green building scene

10:00am

Apps & Snaps for iPhone Gardeners

11:00am|Christianson's Nursery

A Novel Affair with Nancy Pearl

11:30am|Maple Hall

Ice Cream Class for Adults

12:00pm|Lynden Library

Concrete Saturday Market

1:00pm|Concrete Community Center

Lynden Cemetery Tour

1:00pm|Lynden Cemetery

Tuesdays with Morrie

2:00pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Saturday Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Chuckanut Writers Conference Open Mics

7:00pm|Village Books Reading Gallery, Evolve Chocolate and Cafe, Lovitt Restaurant, and Magdalena's Creperie

Musical Reunion

7:00pm|YWCA Ballroom

Dudestock

7:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

An Evening with Ira Glass

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

2018 Cascadia Kids Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
Sunday
Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Bellingham Dance Company's Hunchback

7:00pm|Majestic

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Lummi Stommish Water Festival

10:00am|Lummi Nation

Off Broadway

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Brunch on the Bay

10:00am|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Skagit Symphony Garden Tour

10:00am|Mount Vernon

Junk in Your Trunk

10:00am|North Fork Library

Edison Farmers Market

10:00am|Edison Granary

La Conner Live

1:00pm|Gilkey Square

Women on the Water

1:00pm|Community Boating Center

Audubon at the Museum

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

Trivia Time

3:30pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Way North Comedy Triple Header

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Take Me to Church

8:00pm|Rumors Cabaret

see our complete calendar »

Village Books Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 2018 Cascadia Kids Trove Web