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.”

BoS
Past Columns
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

Paradigms in Collision

November 28, 2018

Leftover Turkey

November 21, 2018

The Divisions Between Us

November 14, 2018

The Map is the Territory

November 7, 2018

Climate Kids

October 31, 2018

Events
Today
Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest

8:00am|Whatcom County

La Conner Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

Regional High School Art Show

8:00am|Northwest Educational Service District

Birding Adventures

9:00am|Skagit Valley

Imagine Convergence on Orcas Island

12:00pm|Rosario Resort

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

12:00pm

English Country Dancing

1:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Dig Deep

3:00pm|Deming Library

Happy Hour Thursdays

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Pub Run

6:00pm|Stone's Throw Brewery

Ancient Beauty

6:30pm|Deming Library

Native American Flute Workshop

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Cross-Country Bicycling Travelogue

7:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Peter Pan, A Musical Adventure

7:00pm|Meridian High School

Wild Mercy

7:00pm|Village Books

Dyo Festival Plays

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Bellingham Puppetry and Mask Festival

7:30pm|Alternative Library

Asleep at the Wheel

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Asleep at the Wheel

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Legally Blonde
Tomorrow
Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest

8:00am|Whatcom County

La Conner Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

Regional High School Art Show

8:00am|Northwest Educational Service District

Birding Adventures

9:00am|Skagit Valley

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

12:00pm

Imagine Convergence on Orcas Island

12:00pm|Rosario Resort

Peter Pan, A Musical Adventure

7:00pm|Meridian High School

Dyo Festival Plays

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Bellingham Puppetry and Mask Festival

7:30pm|Alternative Library

Wild Things

9:30am|Whatcom Falls Park

SICBA Home & Garden Show

11:00am|Skagit County Fairgrounds

World Water Day Beach Cleanup

12:00pm|Squalicum Beach

Peace Vigil

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Fourth Friday Art Walk

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Barry Lopez and Horizon

7:00pm|Village Books

Don Felder, formerly of the Eagles

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Sierra Hull

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

The Pageturners

7:30pm|ACT Annex

Tarnation, Ryan Stiles

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

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Saturday
Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest

8:00am|Whatcom County

La Conner Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

Birding Adventures

9:00am|Skagit Valley

Imagine Convergence on Orcas Island

12:00pm|Rosario Resort

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

12:00pm

Peter Pan, A Musical Adventure

7:00pm|Meridian High School

Dyo Festival Plays

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Bellingham Puppetry and Mask Festival

7:30pm|Alternative Library

SICBA Home & Garden Show

11:00am|Skagit County Fairgrounds

Tarnation, Ryan Stiles

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

The Pageturners

7:30pm|ACT Annex

Honeywagon Runs

8:00am|Riverside Park

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #154

WNPS Field Trip

9:00am|Breazeale Interpretive Center

Native Plant Sale

9:00am|Whatcom Community College

NSEA Work Party

9:00am|Squalicum Creek

Make It and Take it

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Nordic Roots Seminar

9:00am|United Methodist Church

Spring Studio Seconds Sale

10:00am|Blue Water Pottery

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Youth Ag Day

10:00am|Skagit Farmers Supply

Quilt Museum Annex Open House

10:00am|Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum

Skagit Beer Week

11:00am|Skagit Valley

Dahlias Made Easy

11:00am|Christianson's Nursery

Free My Heart

12:00pm|Village Books

Tax Help Available

12:30pm|First Congregational Church

Forest Bathing

1:00pm|Rockport State Park

A Family Immigration Story

1:00pm

Fidalgo and Mount Baker Youth Symphonies

1:00pm|McIntyre Hall

PechuKucha Night

5:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Cheese Classes

5:00pm|Chuckanut Center

Giovanni & the Camino of St. Francis

7:00pm|Village Books

Manouche NW Concert Series

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Contra Dance with the Alphabeats

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Gabriel and Rebecca Manalac

7:30pm|Jansen Art Center

Skagit Symphony's Masterpiece Concert

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

see our complete calendar »

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