6. What should we be spending our money on instead?
Whatcom County has a choice to invest in affordable housing, treatment and educational resources, which will benefit the whole community or continue to invest in carceral expansion. Growing and maintaining the criminal justice system in its current form actively and consistently causes harm to members of our community, especially our Black, Brown, and Indigenous neighbors. Instead, we can invest in getting to the root cause of the social problems that the current system is perpetuating. Looking for the root causes is as simple as asking those currently incarcerated what would have helped them avoid being incarcerated and then acting on the knowledge gained from their lived experience.
For the Whatcom County Jail residents that were asked this question and responded to the survey, the most common answer, with 54% of respondents in agreement, was “a stable place to live” with “help with mental health issues” coming in a close second at 47%. The other major answers were a stronger support network (47%), drug/alcohol treatment (42%), and a stable income (39%).
When asked if they have “ever received services for addiction/substance use” the responses were: Yes (69%) and no (31%). When asked if they have “ever received services for mental health” the responses were: Yes (59%) and no (41%).
When asked “time in jail has been longer because...” an overwhelming majority answered that it was due to: delays in the court system (70%) and not being able to pay bail (64%).
When asked “What Community Support is Needed to be Successful” the responses were overwhelmingly: Help to find housing (78%) and Help finding a job (65%).4
A major theme in the survey completed with folks that are currently incarcerated within Whatcom County Jails was a need for community support and resources. Additionally, nearly ¾ of those incarcerated had their time in jail extended due to delays in the court system and 2/3 had their time lengthened due to the bail system that penalizes poor folks disproportionately. We need to hire more public defense attorneys and necessary support staff to shorten the stays of those currently incarcerated and eliminate cash bail.
Transformative forms of justice welcome us as community members to find more effective and healing ways of connecting with one another – especially alienated members of our society. Transformative justice includes models for reconciliation and prevention of harm that people have used and are using as an alternative to punishment/exile models (i.e. incarceration) like restorative circles, community accountability processes, supportive housing, and more.
Reallocating funding for the jail to community centers, senior centers, community events, and creative expression of the lived experiences of marginalized folks within the community would also have a significant impact on reducing incarceration before anyone has to interact with the criminal legal system and their lives are disrupted with lasting negative impacts.
Instead of building new jail facilities that have more and more bed capacity, the most evidence-based approach to reducing incarceration is to: invest in housing services, invest in building affordable housing, invest in increasing employment opportunities, invest in access to employment, and invest in community spaces where individuals that feel alienated from their community can feel seen, valued, and loved.