Regarding the 9/23/19 Whatcom County Justice Updates event and addressing issues related to trust / Email to the IPRTF, Dena Jensen

Screen shot of a slide with black and gray lettering on a white background and the Whatcom County, Washington seal carrying an image of sky, snowy mountains, and snowy foreground, included in the Whatcom County Justice Updates slideshow, presented at the 9/23/19 event by the same name

September 25, 2019 Dena Jensen

Here is a link at which you can access the video of the September 23, 2019 Whatcom County Justice Updates event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLQVQef10mo

Below is the email I sent to members of the Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force today regarding that event:

To: jnixon@co.whatcom.wa.us <jnixon@co.whatcom.wa.us>
Cc: Barry Buchanan <bbuchana@co.whatcom.wa.us>
Sent: Wednesday, September 25, 2019, 01:57:18 PM PDT
Subject: Regarding the 9/23/19 Whatcom County Justice Updates event and addressing issues related to trust

Dear Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force Members:

I recently watched the video of the Whatcom County Justice Updates event that was held on Monday, September 23, 2019.  I wanted to address the issue of trust that was one of the focuses of the meeting. 

I really appreciated the presentation by Arlene Feld, from the Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force, with her perspectives on community needs for mental and behavioral health, along with the numerous ideas she brought forward describing different potential options for supplying mental and behavioral health needs in the community. I appreciated also that Prosecuting Attorney Eric Richey also spoke at length on programs aimed at keeping people out of jail. 
Since it was noted by County Council Member Barry Buchanan that the community has emphasized that they prioritize treatment services, it is important that when you present information to the community about what you are doing for the Public Health, Safety, and Justice Initiative, that you continue to work on using the majority of your time talking about mental and behavioral health services, and programs that keep people out of jail. 
I also believe it will help address the trust gap if, in a fashion similar to the presentation by Arlene Feld at the event, more people who are involved in researching and conceptualizing needs and services, and service providers themselves, are brought before the public at outreach events. Even in the case of existing programs, it’s one thing to hear the County Prosecutor talk about drug court, but it would be additionally compelling to get input from people who are involved in such programs in various capacities. 
You all likely have the benefit of that on the Incarceration and Prevention Task Force, but the community gets to see very little of it.
You might also have more turnout to events where community organizations are involved. 

A good point was made by a comment at the event that it is important to show gratitude and recognition for all the community activities and efforts that have contributed in a critical way to the the progress that officials are now making in beginning to more closely align their priorities with the needs and desires of the community. 
Again, this is something that could be resolved by actually bringing those organizations in to be involved in these outreach efforts. If, however, they can’t attend, then summaries of their efforts by either supporters or clients of the organizations, or by members of the Task Force who have interacted with them can be helpful. 

I feel like it is extremely challenging to establishing community trust for our County Council, Administration, and Sheriff’s Office to be failing to effectively press to expedite and to positively, vocally, and publicly support life safety renovations on the current jail facility. 
Cost keeps being brought up by officials. Allowing the pace of life safety renovations to remain at a crawl, feels like it is intended, as it has in years past according to County Executive Louws, to serve the push for a new jail facility which is currently years and years away. 
Cost is what we have incurred by putting off these renovations for decades. That accountability should be taken. 
It must be made a priority to remove obstacles from achieving prompt life safety renovations. Needs and funds for services and a new jail should be separately addressed. 
I just read a brief report on KGMI that the first phase of the renovations – that will only be addressing the replacement of the jail doors and hardware – is not going to be under way until January of 2020. This makes it three years since County government began to demonstrate a willingness to address these issues that compromise the safety of jail residents and workers, not to mention the fact that they represent concerning liability issues to the County. 

I look forward to future actions that contribute to increased trust between those supporting the Public Health, Safety, and Justice Initiative and the Whatcom County community. To bring home contributing factors to the trust issue in one more way, I will bring up the fact that, until a few months ago, there had not been any interaction between elected decision makers for the County and the Sheriff’s Office in many years regarding…pursuing an adequate and safe evacuation plan for jail residents and workers. At the time of the recent discussion, an adequate and safe evacuation plan did not exist. This is in a jail without a smoke evacuation system or proper fire suppression sprinkler system. Such circumstances don’t serve to instill trust that our government agencies have been devoting the proper amount of priority and attention to these issues. While it’s slightly reassuring that those discussions are finally, finally, starting to happen, it is very unnerving that this is only just starting to happen now. Seeking trust under such circumstances is going to be challenging. It will be vital that you keep working to understand what your community expects and deserves from you in order to successfully establish the level of trust required to have the Public Health and Public Safety Initiative result in desirable outcomes. 

Sincerely,
Dena Jensen
Birch Bay, WA

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