I transcribed a portion of the presentation at the 1/15/18 Whatcom County Council Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee meeting given by Jeff Parks, Undersheriff, Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office. The presentation was regarding an agenda item for the committee that I have discussed in a previous blog post.
As a quick refresher, the agenda item was related to an ordinance proposed by the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office for committee action that day. It advocated for “repealing and replacing Whatcom County Code 1.28, Standards for Correctional Facilities.” It turned out the members of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee decided not to take action that day and to hold this item in committee pending more discussion and research.
I am providing the information contained in the transcription, so that people, not only can get a better sense of why the Sheriff’s Office (with the agreement of Whatcom County Prosecutor’s Office) is suggesting WCC 1.28 be repealed, but also so people can be exposed to where the Whatcom County Jail is at in terms of overcrowding according to Undersheriff Parks. He described the jail’s current overcrowding status differently from the way he describes the state of overcrowding at the jail in the past at the beginning of the transcription below. He describes the new state of the jail population near the end the transcription here.
This new (to me) information leads me to have more questions than answers as to how the jail population is currently being monitored and how well it may or may not provide procedures that help keep our jail from being “consistently and continually” overcrowded, as Undersheriff Parks indicates has been the case, at least in the past.
Here is my transcription, to the best of my ability of a portion of Undersheriff Jeff Parks presentation to the Whatcom County Council’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, beginning at about 20:00 on the meeting audio:
“And what happened, and I’m not sure at what point, Wendy may know, but we declared, and I don’t know if this actually occurred in a legislative form or a legal form or not, but there’s a section in that code, under Section D of 1.28.100 that states these standards can be suspended in incidences of overcrowding. Well our jail pretty much operated consistently and continuously as overcrowded. So the answer that came back during many discussions that happened, over a long period of time, about these jail standards: well, those are suspended. And that kind of became the standard for the standards. Always a little nervous about just declaring these standards being suspended because obviously if you have no standards, you put yourself at risk right off the bat by saying we’re operating a facility with no standards.
“So, that not quite being true, and the actual case is we have many standards, procedures, policies, everything that covers, literally everything that we do within the corrections bureau and jail. And those have all been published, updated, every process you go through to put things in place to provide training and governance and oversight of how we run the facility.
“So, that has been the two positions that have to be reconciled. The issues are that, well, first of all the County is not required to have this code as it’s written. And most counties do not. 27, we did a little research on that, 27 counties don’t even have such a body of – statutory body within their code. Those that do, have some very brief, very brief statement in their code that reflects something that’s important, that’s on their radar. For example, Skagit County, they have one section in, their code is formatted just like ours, pretty much very, very similar. And it’s basically just addressing contraband in the jail. That’s the entire body of their jail standard code in Skagit County, for example.
“The current code is not all-inclusive. There’s been, as I already said, there’s been significant changes over the past 30 years, and the current code has requirements, elements, and measurement that cannot be met, particularly with the structure, as you’ve all heard for many, many times here in Council, the challenges and issues we have with the current design and current state of the facility. So we put ourselves at odds with the code continuously. It is obsolete.
“So we haven’t put anything forward for, I think, since this thing was rolled out, to update or update or amend or alter the code in any way. We feel it’s too narrowly written. And it’s really, it’s not the best practice to try to rewrite everything we do into that section of County Code. We literally have hundreds and hundreds of pages of documents that cover everything from medical to physical plant within the jail, so where do you stop if you were to roll out a specific code, how are you going to cover everything? It doesn’t now and I can’t imagine a section in the County Code because a lot of what we do is covered by federal law, state law, and there are, there are a number of areas that it would be extremely burdensome to try to construct a body of County regulation. And it would require constant updating.
“One case in point, right now we’re working with the courts on whether we con bring somebody into court to appear in front of the court shackled or restrained. And there’s a lot of work going across different counties on how people are complying with the current court ruling that said you can’t do that, and what are the logistics of that, what are the requirements of that, and every county is different.”
At around 24:25 in the audio, there was a question from Council Member Barbara Brenner addressing an issue not specific to what Undersheriff Parks was speaking about at this point in the presentation. The transcription picks up again when he resumes after addressing Council Member Brenner’s question.
“But our proposal is obviously to repeal and replace and in the packet there’s a suggested very short layout for what we would suggest the new language. We don’t have any predisposition that that’s the the language. I know there will probably be some desire to tweak that in some way, which is, it’s a work in progress. We understand that when we bring this up.
“But, as I said, historically we’ve just considered those, the requirements, as suspended. Here’s where this really becomes an issue for us, is that we’re now operating under population control measures, so, and those are laid out in the current jail use agreements which we never had to the degree we do now with the contracts that we have with all the outside agencies that use, contract to use the jail.
So we’ve put in place something that actually says we’re not overcrowded, and when we are, we go into certain operational stages. And so now, we’re operating, and you get a break-down on those on the reports that Wendy issues every week about the population, the status of the facility, what percentage of the time is it at level 2, level 1, or normal operation. So we have quite a bit of time in those various states of operation so that also flies in the face of being able to say these requirements are suspended. So it creates a legal issue for us, a minefield, if you will.
“And after that training that we went to, it was concurred between the prosecutors office and our office, asking their opinion, their recommendation was, the code really presented some serious problems as it exists, and it should be repealed as it’s creating a liability exposure for the County. “