Email response from Sheriff Elfo to my 3/30/17 email to the Jail Stakeholder Work Group / Facebook post, Noisy Waters Northwest, Dena Jensen

jail stakeholder work group march 30 email

May 11, 2017  Dena Jensen

I got an email from Sheriff Elfo this morning in response to an email I wrote back on March 30, to the Jail Stakeholder Work Group (my email is shown in the graphic). This resistance-is-futile kind of quote from the Sheriff bugs me the most: “Despite all that is being done and can be done outside the context of the jail, there will continue to be a need for a jail. The law requires it.” Here’s the full email so you know how he is currently framing things about the jail:

Ms. Jensen, thank you for recognizing the work of committees engaged in efforts to reduce incarceration levels through the delivery of desperately needed mental health services, addiction treatment and more sound practices within the criminal justice system (please note that my direct email is belfo@co.whatcom.wa.us).

I believe that the Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force has identified some opportunities for systematic changes that if funded and implemented, will help address many of the issues. I look forward to the report of the Vera Institute which may provide other recommendations for reducing the volume of people entering the jail system and the time they spend there. I fully intend to vigorously advocate for the implementation of all sound recommendations.

It is abundantly clear that the current jail was constructed to inferior standards and was outfitted with inferior but critical life-safety and security systems. The facility did not even meet correctional facility design standards that were prevalent in the early 1980s when it opened, and provides grossly inadequate space for those with medical, mental health or addiction withdrawal issues. I agree that the facility was not adequately maintained. Prior to 2012, it was extremely difficult to get the County agencies and decision-makers responsible for the maintenance of the facility to ensure on-going upkeep and repairs. With decades of exceeding capacity, many systems simply wore out and continue to do so.

From the perspective of programs offered at the Sheriff’s Office (out-of-custody work crews, electronic home monitoring, work and school release, etc.) the County Council and County Executive revised long-standing policy that required these programs be self-supporting or terminate. Participation charges created opportunity barriers for many.

Despite all that is being done and can be done outside the context of the jail, there will continue to be a need for a jail. The law requires it. In fact our Legislature in its last session increased the sentences that will be required to be served in county jail throughout the state.

As Sheriff, I have an obligation to operate the facility in a safe and humane manner. Given current circumstances, this is challenging at best. With the routine failure of critical life-safety and security systems and a shameful lack of space for evaluating, treating and housing those with serious mental disorders, withdrawal from addictions and medical needs, the current facility is grossly inadequate and needs to be replaced. Families of incarcerated love ones should not need to worry about their safety, security or the conditions of their housing.

It is ultimately up to the County Council to determine the size of a new jail. Over past two plus decades many professionals and Council-created committees, task forces and other bodies have assessed the situation and provided opinions, perspectives and recommendations. = I do not believe our Council will authorize a jail that exceeds current needs.

Attached is a link to the latest assessment of the downtown jail (and the work center). I expect that the County Facilities Department which is responsible for the maintenance of the jail will receive a final report in short order. \\co.whatcom.wa.us\root\CountyTempShare\Facilities\Jail Draft Report\000-PHASE 1B draft report 4-19-17.pdf

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Best Regards,

Sheriff Bill Elfo
Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office
311 Grand Avenue
Bellingham, Washington 98225
(360) 778-6600 (office) 360-778-6605 (direct line)
“Dedicated to making Whatcom County the safest in the State through excellence in public safety.”


The link to “the latest assessment of the downtown jail (and the work center) which Sheriff Elfo provided in his email above was not a working link.  I wrote to him and asked him if he could provide another link and here is his email response:

Ms. Jensen, please try this link – the other was an error – the 11 October 2016 Phase 1A report provides an assessment of the facility and reviews options:  http://www.whatcomcounty.us/DocumentCenter/Home/View/23949

If you have any difficulties opening it (it took a few minutes for me to download), please let me know and I will send you a hard copy.

BIll
Sheriff Bill Elfo
Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office
311 Grand Avenue
Bellingham, Washington 98225
(360) 778-6600 (office) 360-778-6605 (direct line)

“Dedicated to making Whatcom County the safest in the State through excellence in public safety.”

Read my post in the Noisy Waters Northwest Facebook group here.


Here is a screen shot of the Conclusion and Priorities section of the report that Sheriff Elfo sent the link for:

building assessment conclusions

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