The Gristle

New Directions

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

NEW DIRECTIONS: Making good on a campaign promise, Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Richey presented his plan for criminal justice reform to Whatcom County Council this week.

Richey’s platform for change builds on recommendations of the county’s Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force, formed in 2015 to review local criminal justice and behavioral health programs and recommend changes to reduce incarceration of individuals struggling with mental illness and chemical dependency, and to reduce jail use by pretrial screening of defendants who can be safely released. The task force includes a broad range of stakeholders—including representatives from organizations involved in criminal justice and law enforcement, policymakers and members of the public. Richey was elected in November with 55 percent of the vote amid strong wave of public support for alternatives to incarceration.

Perhaps most disturbing of the task force’s findings was an analysis of the jail population that found more than half (59 percent) of inmates detained at the jail were being held without trial—that is, for one reason or another they were unable to secure release. People being held pretrial are legally presumed innocent and awaiting resolution of their cases.

Richey admitted at this early stage his platform for change is mostly aspirational—a high-level examination of the challenges that face the prosecutors office and the wider constellation of criminal and social justice responses—but sketched ways that change is already being considered and implemented in his office.

“This is a nuts-and-bolts platform, this is a vision statement,” Richey admitted, “but the specifics will be coming out soon.

“My goal,” Richey noted in his presentation to Council, “is to reduce the pretrial jail population and save significant tax dollars without compromising community safety. Having people in custody, away from their families and unable to work creates collateral consequences for our community and worsens situations for many. I would like to see people being held in custody only when truly necessary,” he said. “My intention is to reduce the pretrial population in jail by seeking bail only in cases where the individual charged is a danger to the community, interferes with the administration of justice, or is a flight risk. Each individual will be reviewed to ensure bail is appropriate under the applicable standard.”

Richey cited Seattle’s LEAD program—Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion—as perhaps the most promising model for early adoption to help reduce county incarceration rates. LEAD was introduced in 2011 when Seattle police officers were given the discretion to connect certain people arrested for drug and prostitution crimes with case workers instead of taking them off to jail. The program contains an inherent admission that a cycle of offense and arrest is inadequate, and seeks instead to meet immediate needs, like food and housing, then work with participants over months or even years to remake their lives through opportunities like job training, education and treatment. The program has since been replicated in 20 cities across the country.

It’s a concept that can be expanded into other areas.

For example, Seattle began experimenting with a provisional licensing program that would allow qualified participants with suspended licenses to drive to and from work during daylight hours in order to remain employed and provide for their families. The program offers a legal remedy for a particular need.

During his campaign, Richey tested a warrant-quashing day, an offer of amnesty for low-level arrest warrants, the majority being for failure to appear for court proceedings. Of those, the bulk are warrants for FTA related to driving with a suspended license. Previous policy from the Whatcom prosecutors’ office classified these FTAs as “bail jumping,” an arrestable offense.

Richey promised to continue to offer warrant-quashing amnesty, perhaps as often as twice a year, for the approximate 12,000 outstanding warrants out in Whatcom County. Yet one can see how decriminalizing FTA DWLS3 would easily wipe out a third of that number.

“My office will continue to work with the public defenders and other relevant stakeholders to refine bail jump policies that are flexible and reduce the need to file bail jump charges where appropriate,” he pledged.

The evolution of crime and criminal offense in Whatcom County (and the wider nation) carries a strong correlation with mental illness and substance abuse, suggesting that a focus on the latter could beneficially and cost-effectively reduce incidence of crime.

For crimes known as shoplift burglaries, or the property crimes and thefts that occur when people steal food and alcohol and other items from local businesses, those charges will be handled as misdemeanors rather than felonies, Richey said. These are crimes of poverty, and they’re stealing because they’re hungry, or because they have a mental illness or addiction, he said.

“Whatcom County deputy prosecutors under my leadership will liberally support the Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA) sentencing option,” Richey said. “This sentencing alternative allows defendants battling substance abuse to receive treatment in lieu of incaraceration. These individuals also receive supervision upon their release back into the community to assist in their continued rehabilitation.

“it is time to consider public safety and public health together in understanding the drivers of our jail population,” Richey summarized in his presentation to Council. “Innovative approaches such as working with social services and community health and treatment programs in addressing low-level drug crimes and crimes of poverty will save valuable taxpayer money. I believe Whatcom County and the prosecutor’s office have an opportunity to demonstrate leadership in the national conversation on incarceration and criminal justice reform.”

Silver Reef House
Past Columns
A Change in Climate

April 24, 2019

The Raucous Caucus

April 17, 2019

Dragged

April 10, 2019

Edge City

April 3, 2019

Fixing the Fix

March 27, 2019

Halfway Houses

March 20, 2019

Fire and Ice

March 6, 2019

The Big Short

February 27, 2019

Marina Lacuna

February 20, 2019

New Bites at the Apple

February 13, 2019

Coal Folds

February 6, 2019

Refocusing the Narrative

January 29, 2019

Old Town, Old Story

January 23, 2019

Ranker Unanchored

January 16, 2019

‘Alternative Methods’

January 9, 2019

Top Stories, 2018

January 2, 2019

Et Tu, #MeToo

December 26, 2018

Turn That Corner

December 19, 2018

Events
Today
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Bellingham Beer Week

12:00pm|Throughout Bellingham

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am

Student and Community Job Fair

10:00am|Whatcom Community College

Skagit Valley College Sustainability Fair

10:00am|Skagit Valley College

Parkinson's Dance Class

11:00am|Ballet Bellingham

English Country Dancing

1:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Alt Reads

3:00pm|Everson Library

Kids for Peace Write Now

4:00pm|Village Books

Robin Hood, a Musical

7:00pm|Sedro-Woolley High School

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

The Success Lie

7:00pm|Village Books

Eurydice

7:00pm|Squalicum High School,

Salish Sea Intertidal Life

7:00pm|Community Food Co-op

Unstable By Design

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Neil Berg
Tomorrow
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Bellingham Beer Week

12:00pm|Throughout Bellingham

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am

Robin Hood, a Musical

7:00pm|Sedro-Woolley High School

Eurydice

7:00pm|Squalicum High School,

Unstable By Design

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Spring Book Sale

10:00am|Deming Library

Chanticleer Authors Conference

12:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

Valley Writers

1:00pm|South Whatcom Library

SPA Talk with Bradley James Lockhart

2:30pm|St. Paul's Academy

Linuxfest Northwest

3:00pm|Settlemyer Hall

Peace Vigil

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

First Friday Art Walk

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Poetry Party

5:00pm|Upper Skagit Library

Building Dreams Dinner and Auction

5:00pm|Maplehurst Farm

Raise the Roof Auction and Trashion Show

5:30pm|Depot Market Square

North Cascades Community Orchestra

7:30pm|Central Lutheran Church

The Coronation of Poppea

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Mainstage

Skagit Community Band

7:30pm|Maple Hall, Anacortes-Westminster Presbyterian Church

Genre Legends, Hot Dogs

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Village Books Trove Web
Saturday
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Bellingham Beer Week

12:00pm|Throughout Bellingham

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am

Robin Hood, a Musical

7:00pm|Sedro-Woolley High School

Eurydice

7:00pm|Squalicum High School,

Unstable By Design

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Chanticleer Authors Conference

12:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

Linuxfest Northwest

3:00pm|Settlemyer Hall

Genre Legends, Hot Dogs

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Skagit Community Band

7:30pm|Maple Hall, Anacortes-Westminster Presbyterian Church

The Coronation of Poppea

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Mainstage

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #154

Dealer Demo Day

9:00am|Fanatik Bike Co.

Everson Garden Club Plant Sale

9:00am|Everson Elementary School

Have a Heart Family Fun Run

9:00am|Edgewater Park

Anacortes Vintage by the Sea

9:00am|Anacortes Port Transit Event Center

NSEA Work Party

9:00am|Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association

Independent Bookstore Day

9:00am|Village Books

Rise Against Hunger

9:00am| St. Luke's Community Health Education Center

Seedlings, Starts and Garden Goodies Swap and Giveaway

10:00am|Van Zandt Community Hall

Backyard Habitat Native Flora Fair

10:00am|Fairhaven Village Green

WoodFest

10:00am|Sedro-Woolley High School

Contemplative Brush and Japanese Washi Papers

10:00am|Blaine Harbor Center

Local Author/Illustrator Open House

10:00am|South Whatcom Library

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Dia de los niños/Dia de los libros

10:00am|Lynden Library

We Are Skookum Scavenger Hunt

10:00am|Downtown Bellingham

Dakota Art Store Anniversary Art Expo

10:00am|Dakota Art Store

Vaisakhi Festival

11:00am|Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Tomato Growing Tips and Tricks

11:00am|Joe's Gardens

Getting Your Hand Dirty

11:00am|North Fork Library

The Greatest Sideshow in Sedro-Woolley

12:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Learn to Grow Fruit Trees

1:30pm|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Little Farm Homegrown

2:00pm|Everson Library

Garage Wine Company Tasting

2:00pm|Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants

Sudden Valley Jazz Series

3:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Interwoven Lives

4:00pm|Village Books

FiberFest

4:00pm|Maple Hall

April Brews Day

6:30pm|Depot Market Square

Guemes Island gets lit

6:30pm

Contra Dance with Heliotrope

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Poetry Duo

7:00pm|Village Books

Swing Into Spring

7:00pm|Pioneer Pavilion Community Center

Bellingham Community Band's Appalachian Spring

7:00pm|Syre Center

Jennifer Scott, Rene Worst, and Bill Coon

7:30pm|Jansen Art Center

Skagit Valley Chorale's American Journeys

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Artrageous

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

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