The Bellingham Herald discussed Whatcom County Jail’s deplorable and dangerous conditions.
In the article Staff & Inmates Say It’s Time For A New Whatcom County Jail, Sheriff Bill Elfo is reported as saying the current Whatcom County Jail is consistently packed beyond its designed capacity, with conditions that pose safety issues for guards and inmates.
On March 18, Elfo sat down with Bellingham City Council during a special meeting to discuss the need for a new county jail and request the city’s financial support.
The jail’s current legal capacity is somewhere between 298 and 362 inmates, but the average daily population in 2014 was 403 people.
Inmates have broken out the windows in their cells onto the street below and picked away at the grout in their cinder block walls, creating small pass-throughs from cell to cell; sewer lines have backed up into the sheriff’s office; nearly every space – shower rooms, indoor recreation areas – has been used to house inmates at one time or another as the population has fluctuated well beyond capacity.
The video above captures commentary from jail staff, inmates and administration weighing in on the issue.
My opinion? Sure, certain aspects of the criminal justice system are punitive. They’re made to have inmates consider their surroundings and force them to take accountability for the crimes they’re committed.
Nevertheless, the old and overcrowded jail creates significant Human Rights issues and potentially extraordinary liability costs if a worst-case-scenario tragedy happened. According to the National Institute of Corrections recent evaluation of the jail, it was determined that if a fire or other emergency were to happen, such as an earthquake, the loss of life at the jail would be “catastrophic.’ Though the building is largely cinder block, mortar and concrete, if mattresses, clothing and/or other items were set on fire, smoke could easily fill a room or floor of the building and suffocate those inside.
It’s time for a new jail with better living conditions.
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