1. Will a new, bigger jail be better for the young people and other individuals who are already interacting with the criminal legal system?
According to the Whatcom County Council and Executive, a new, bigger jail will benefit our community by building more “humane” facilities for incarcerated community members. The truth is that putting human beings in a cell will never be humane, no matter how many windows there are or if the walls are painted yellow. Going to jail is damaging to anyone who is incarcerated regardless of what the facility looks like or how “humanely” they say it is designed.
Incarceration has been linked to negative mental health outcomes and recidivism rates have been linked to worsening chronic medical conditions, substance use and mental health disorders and preventable deaths following release. Anyone who is incarcerated risks losing their job, housing, support system, benefits, health, and more; making access to resources even more difficult. Individuals with substance use disorders risk a lapse in medication while incarcerated, and when released, face greater risk of relapse and overdose due to lack of support when exiting, forced sobriety, and trauma experienced while interacting with the carceral system.
Regardless of the outcome of someone’s case, time spent interacting with the criminal legal system causes major disruptions to the lives of young people and their loved ones. Building a new, bigger jail is merely a superficial answer to a safer Whatcom County and spending hundreds of millions of dollars to make a damaging and harmful system look “more humane” is a waste of our community’s time and resources.
A disproportionate number of poor, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and houseless folks are currently in the Whatcom County Jail1, and we know from other county jail expansions like Skagit County’s jail expansion2, that more space does lead to more arrests and incarceration, but doesn’t actually lower rates of crime. The Whatcom County Council has made sure to include language in the Jail Sales Tax proposal that would automatically authorize and trigger further expansion of facilities on the massive property owned by the County on LaBounty Road in Ferndale when capacity thresholds are met. We know that those additional beds will be filled with poor, queer, BIPOC, disabled, and other individuals with marginalized identities based on previous trends within Whatcom County’s criminal legal system.
It is cheaper, smarter, and more just to invest in the things we know work: housing, income support, childcare, arts and education programs, health care, counseling, vocational support, and public spaces to build relationships and community.