Wednesday, April 24, 2019
Prosecution should be less about punishment and more about doing what it takes to keep our community safe. Getting people to change their behavior does not always take the heavy hand of the government. Sometimes a lighter touch is enough to get the message across, which is one of the reasons why we believe that first time, lower-level offenders must be offered treatment options without any incarceration. We also believe that when people get accustomed to incarceration, jail sentences become easier to do and are less impactful in reducing recidivism.
Jailing people for low-level, nonviolent offenses can have the opposite effect of keeping the community safe. In fact, recent studies have shown that incarcerating people for as little as three days greatly increases the likelihood a person will commit another crime within two years.
We see interventions and treatment versus jail time as central to the recovery of those who are addicted to substances like opiates.
Since January, Whatcom County Drug Court has greatly expanded to being nearly full, and will need critical support services like more treatment options and dedicated housing. To that end, we support the partnership between Opportunity Council and Lifeline Connections to develop and operate a recovery housing program in Bellingham. People in recovery need the stability of housing as well as peer support and clinical services to be successful.
But early interventions are the ones that are most effective: Investing in the future success of our community’s children is the biggest influencer of whether we see them as young adults at the front door of the criminal justice system or on the first day of classes at Whatcom Community College. We both support universal pre-K, free daycare, parenting programs and vocational prep. So many of the drivers and influencers of how people enter the criminal justice system exist in the social fabric of our community, not the courtroom. Addressing issues like poverty and racial disparities are at the heart of any true criminal justice reform.
As board members of DVSAS (Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services), we are cautiously optimistic about the new offender treatment therapy that the organization is bringing to our community. This evidence-based therapy can help keep survivors safe and treat the root causes of domestic abuse. We also support the new DVSAS shelter for survivors that was opened last year and applaud the leadership of Lydia Place for continuing its mission of breaking the cycle of homelessness by housing women and kids.
For years, there was no reliable third option beyond jail and the hospital’s Emergency Department for officers and deputies who dealt with people in acute substance disorder or mental health psychosis. One of the goals for the Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force was to open a Crisis Stabilization Center (CSC), providing our community with a way to treat people who are in crisis. The CSC will be treating patients in less than a year, but it needs to be funded like a fire station—always ready to serve. Therefore, we support Representative Shewmake’s efforts to secure $1 million in operating funds until the ongoing funding needs for this important local treatment facility get sorted out in Olympia.
These are game-changing policies and programs, and we know there’s more to do. Working together, the City and County governments will continue to reduce victimization, save taxpayer dollars and transform the lives of those who are involved with our local justice system.
Eric Richey is the Whatcom County Prosecutor. Dan Hammill is president of Bellingham City Council. Both serve on the Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force.