Sept. 21 Membership Meeting: Housing Crisis panel, Res. on Jail Tax Alternatives, Election of State Committeewoman
General Membership Meeting: Panel on Housing Crisis
Thursday, September 21, 6 -8 pm at Bellingham Public Library, downstairs public meeting room
6 pm: Navigating Bellingham’s Affordable Housing Crisis: How yesterday’s zoning policies affect our children
Rick Sepler, Bellingham’s Director of Development and Planning, and Greg Baker, Superintendent of Public Schools, will each do an informational PowerPoint presentation. They will then answer questions submitted in writing either prior to the meeting, or on paper after listening to the presentations. School Board candidate Jenn Mason will facilitate.
7 pm: Resolution on Alternatives to the Jail Tax (see text below)
Submitted by the Issues & Advocacy Committee. We are making this available online ahead of the meeting. All paid members in good standing may vote.
7:30 pm: Election of State Committeewoman
To replace Tatum Kenn, who resigned. Our Bylaws stipulate that only Precinct Committee Officers (PCOs) may vote.
Resolution on Alternatives to the Jail Tax
WHEREAS, Whatcom Democrats have endorsed a REJECT (=NO) vote on the jail tax (Whatcom County Proposition 2017-6);
WHEREAS, the U.S. has the world’s highest rate of incarceration, about ten times higher than the rate in much of Western Europe, and six times higher than our own norm before the 1980s, and the Whatcom Democrats Platform states, “Current rates of incarceration are a national shame”;
WHEREAS, the recently released preliminary report commissioned by Whatcom County from the Vera Institute of Justice has concluded, “Any attempt to ease overcrowding by building a new facility or expanding the current one will not address the underlying causes of [jail] population growth, and the new facility will quickly become overcrowded”*;
WHEREAS, the Whatcom County jail population is unnecessarily high because:
- “Whatcom County lacks pre- and post-charge diversion programming tailored to the level of risk that defendants present,” “The county lacks law enforcement-led diversion opportunities that are responsive to the offenses that are driving jail admissions,” and “The application process and fee for Jail Alternatives bar defendants who would otherwise be eligible to participate”*;
- 62 percent of admissions to the jail were for non-felonies, and overall, the vast majority were nonviolent charges*;
- Almost half of those assessed bail could not afford it, so that 59 percent of those being held were pretrial, and “Although Washington Court Rule 3.2 allows for use of unsecured bonds, which does not require defendants to deposit any money upon release but holds them liable for the full amount if they fail to appear, Whatcom County courts do not use these bonds”*;
- Whatcom County incarcerates Latinos and Native and African Americans at three to seven times the rate of white people, creating disproportionate impacts on already marginalized communities*;
WHEREAS, locating a new jail six miles from the courthouse would make access more difficult for public defenders, hospital emergency services, and public transportation; and there is no estimate of the additional operating costs of locating a jail away from the civic center;
WHEREAS, the funding mechanism on the ballot would use 100% of our public safety tax capacity for the next 30 years; and our community may have other needs for such funding, such as a new fire and police station in order to keep up with our growing and aging community;
WHEREAS, the cost of building a new jail is estimated to surpass $110 million, not including the land purchase or the new sheriff’s office, and renovation of the existing jail would cost a fraction as much; and neighboring Skagit County has completed a new jail for less than half that amount;
WHEREAS, the projected per bed cost of the proposed jail is two to three times that of other counties, at $250,000 per bed where Skagit County’s jail is $120,000 per bed and the average of current proposed projects in the US today is around $95,000;
WHEREAS, Whatcom County has yet to release a plan for the new jail, with a detailed budget including an explanation of the high per bed cost and estimates of operational costs, or a firm commitment regarding how funds will be spent;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that we, the Whatcom Democrats, ask the County Council to authorize a full study and plan for renovating and modernizing the existing jail to create a safe and humane environment.
THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we, the Whatcom Democrats, ask the County Council:
- To implement the recommendation of the Vera Institute to use the least restrictive terms of release from jail, in particular the use of unsecured bonds, which do not require defendants to deposit any money upon release but holds them liable for the full amount if they fail to appear, as permitted by Superior and Limited Jurisdiction Court Rules: Wash. Sup. Ct. Crim. R. 3.2(b)(3) and CrRLJ 3.2(b)(3),
- To implement “pre- and post-charge diversion programming tailored to the level of risk that defendants present,” and “law enforcement-led diversion opportunities that are responsive to the offenses that are driving jail admissions”,
- To require that reminder notices be sent out before court dates to reduce “no-shows,”
- To promote public health solutions (like King County’s LEAD program) as an alternative to incarceration for controlled substance use;
THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we, the Whatcom Democrats ask our state legislators to abolish money bail, as New Jersey did earlier this year;
THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we, the Whatcom Democrats ask our federal legislators to cosponsor the No More Money Bail Act.
* Vera Institute of Justice, “Preliminary data findings,” July 7, 2017.