2. How much bigger is the new facility? Where will it be located?
The new jail project is much larger than the Whatcom County Council has described it in previous sessions, and current plans are still unclear as to what the final capacity will be in comparison to the current Jail. The current proposal calls for a new Jail that is between 400 – 440 cells. Within the proposal there is no limit to how many beds can be in each cell, meaning the total capacity could range between 400-1600+ beds. This lack of specification or limits with population size allows for a much larger increase in beds than previous ballot measures.
The Whatcom County Council has made sure to include language that will allow for expansion in the future. They have not stipulated that this expansion must be intended for desperately needed social services. Instead, they are concerned with what happens when they inevitably fill up this new jail – same as the old jail. This new facility would lay the groundwork for constant expansion; the County Council has constantly praised the LaBounty property as having lots of space to expand facilities in the future. Justifications have also been made for a larger facility to include behavioral health services on site. With the location being inaccessible and sharing space with the jail - and the idea that people will want to access supportive services on the same site that their trauma from being locked up occurred is offensive.
It’s also important to note that the LaBounty property where the jail is proposed to be built is 40 acres that hosts wetlands, native species, and an archeological preservation site. Wetlands protect other land from flooding and are home to many important local plant and animal species. Preserving wetlands is vital as our community experiences increased flooding due to climate change. By filling in the wetlands to build a new jail, Whatcom County risks increased impact due to flooding in the surrounding area, destroying essential habitats and ecosystems, disrespecting the archeological preservation site, wasting money on repairs for damaged facilities, and directly harming folks that are incarcerated and have no control over the placement of the jail.