Help us stop failing the jail / Noisy Waters Northwest

many existing system deficiencies strauss.jpg

January 24, 2018  Dena Jensen

On Tuesday, January 30, 2018, now that new Council Members are officially sworn in, the Whatcom County Council’s Finance and Administrative Services Committee (freshly composed of Council Members Rud Browne, Tyler Byrd, and Satpal Sidhu) and Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee (which now is served on by Council Members Barry Buchanan, Tyler Byrd, and Satpal Sidhu) will be discussing some issues related to urgently needed renovations of the Whatcom County Jail in downtown Bellingham.  The Council will then revisit, and potentially vote on, results of the earlier committee discussions at their evening meeting at 7 p.m. that night.

Back on September 15, 2017 I had written a blog post called, “Notes and perspective: The 9/12/17 design2 LAST presentation on renovation of the Whatcom County Jail.”  Some people may remember the graphic quoted admission from County Executive Jack Louws that accompanied that blog post:

holding off louws

design2 LAST is the design firm tasked by Whatcom County to perform building assessments on the existing Whatcom County Jail and Work Center. As part of my perspective I had made this observation:

It was interesting that in describing a number of  deficiency items that design2 LAST considered addressing in detail based on their previous “rapid assessment” Phase 1A review (for which a report was created in October 2016), Ms. Strauss [CEO of design2 Last] seemed to have been operating with the preconceived notion that there would be a new jail in the next few years. At the end of her discussion of the smoke evacuation system, a system that Council Member Donovan remarked was, “one of the main things we tell the public is one of the major dangers of the jail,” Ms. Strauss summed up the reason design2 LAST was not recommending bringing that system up to code in this way:

“If we’re going to do it, we’re going to want to meet code and the cost of it was just over and above what we thought the benefits would be.  And the timing, you know, this is a big job. We can see it stretching for four to five years to do the job, to do the work.  So, we felt like, by then the new jail would be in place or at least under way and it’s just not worth the cost. The benefit’s not worth the cost to the county.  So we recommend not going forward with that one.”

In looking over the Agenda Packet for the January 30 meetings that County Council Members will be engaged in, I came upon a January 17, 2018 letter from Lauri Strauss of design2 LAST and was interested to read a section that reconfirmed my sense from back in September of last year, that design2LAST was basing their recommendations for renovations of the existing Whatcom County Jail facility on, to use Executive Louws words, “the anticipation of possibly getting a new jail.”

design2 last 5-7 year life cycle

Here is a copy of the full letter:


I encourage all Whatcom County community members who care about the currently inhumane conditions at the at the county jail in downtown Bellingham, which have to be endured by individuals who are incarcerated there and those who work there, to keep your focus on communicating to the County Council, County Executive, and County Sheriff that continued tendencies to “put off making major repairs to ongoing equipment break downs,” as well as putting off other renovations to address critical life safety issues, will not be tolerated.

To close, I will include another paragraph from my September 15 perspective to keep us reminded of how long the failed strategies to delay addressing life safety issues have been going on:

Since our county has postponed, for a good 15 years, addressing these life safety issues that have been present at our current jail facility, it is distasteful and dishonorable that officials are not ready to take full financial responsibility for this delay and violation of addressing human safety issues, for those incarcerated, those who work at, and those who visit the jail, by fully renovating the jail and bringing it up to code.  What’s more, having a design consultant firm operating under this same motivation to delay addressing life safety issues under the injurious premise of a new jail being on the horizon (as Executive Louws alluded: “It was…the year 2000 when the first consultant said that we need a new jail,”), appears to just be condemning jail workers and jail residents to living under specific threats of catastrophe indefinitely and unnecessarily.

Here is the link to the Whatcom County Council January 30, 2018 agenda:

And here are addresses to send your emails to our Whatcom County officials:

County Council addresses:

County Executive:

County Sheriff:


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