January 10, 2019 Dena Jensen
This week, now that the Whatcom County Council agenda for next week has been released, I have more questions about jail matters that I am uneducated on!
On the agenda for the Whatcom County Council Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee is a “Proposed Ordinance for Action January 15, 2019.” This proposal was introduced, (according to a reference on the copy of the proposed ordinance) by the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office on December 4, 2018. I don’t know to what body or how that ordinance was introduced. There’s also a memo written by Sheriff Elfo explaining reasons for “repealing and replacing Whatcom County Code 1.28, Standards for Correctional Facilities.”
The memo and also the ordinance explains that WCC 1.28 is considered outdated and that the Whatcom County Sheriff’s office is unable to comply with the standards under WCC 1.28, thus exposing Whatcom County to potential civil liability.
My question and concern arises from a section of Exhibit A (attached to the ordinance and pictured in this blog post) which would be the language that replaces WCC 1.28.
This is the line that concerns me: “The Whatcom County Sheriff shall have the express authority to adopt any and all operational standards, rules, and procedures for the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Corrections Bureau as needed.” And where the Sheriff “shall” (defined as mandatory) be able to adopt “any and all” operational standards, rules, and procedures, he “may” (defined as not mandatory but rather permissive) do what he needs to, as needed, to make sure the standards conform to federal, state, and local laws.
Exhibit A goes on to outline where “these standards,” which the Sheriff is being granted authority to adopt, are established and gives the impression there are certain documents/sources that will be used for the standards. But I am still concerned with that sentence which grants the Sheriff what seems like a possibly excessive amount of authority regarding correctional facility standards, especially when I feel like standards aren’t really being adhered to now as noted in the statement in the proposed ordinance “…the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office is unable to comply with the standards and requirements under WCC 1.28 as codified, thus exposing Whatcom County to potential civil liability…”
Even if our leaders might feel confident in the quality of our current Sheriff in all areas (which, unfortunately, I am not), too much power by a single person over what seems like a significant aspect of correctional management just seems dangerous.
Here are links to relevant documents:
The proposed ordinance (including Exhibit A) – https://whatcom.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=6971853&GUID=A8DFCEE4-64EE-45D1-B713-C9440DB2BAA0Sheriff
Elfo’s memo about the ordinance – https://whatcom.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=6971852&GUID=FB40C933-529F-471F-9527-D1E98D120B8D
Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee agenda for 1/15/19 – https://whatcom.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=A&ID=656957&GUID=C86F9CD1-0C65-4F04-991B-A10AA9CB1244
The text of WCC 1.28 which is proposed to be appealed – https://www.codepublishing.com/WA/WhatcomCounty/html/WhatcomCounty01/WhatcomCounty0128.html
P. S. This is a separate issue than the “Ordinance amending Whatcom County Code 2.46, Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force, and repealing Whatcom County Dode [sic] 2.19, Law and Justice Council” which is also on the agenda for the Criminal Justice and Public Safety for 01/15/19.