In pursuit of justice: who all is breaking the rules? / Noisy Waters Northwest

November 6, 2022 Dena Jensen

Included in this post are some important points to consider regarding questions and input for the Whatcom County Justice Project (jail and services) Town Hall Listening Session on November 15th at 6:00pm. Click here to join via Zoom or attend in person at 311 Grand Avenue, Bellingham, WA 98225.

I spent the time-changed hour “early” that I woke up today thinking about moldy kitchen and bathroom ceilings in the Whatcom County Jail, and encampment sweeps happening in Bellingham when our one 24/7 emergency shelter in the County is full. I thought about how legal codes and laws are being broken by officials month after month and year after year. 

I assume officials are breaking laws and codes because they feel they are prioritizing more important things that allow them to feel okay about sacrificing the safety and well-being of certain people. I assume they think conditions for those people are way worse in other places and so chances are lower that legal action will be taken against them here for their violations.

My brain was contrasting this rule-breaking with how City leaders and employees such as parking enforcement personnel are wondering why people won’t just move their cars every 72 hours and pick up their trash and not be resistant and distraught when some of these people were told weeks before their belongings are taken away by the City that all their belongings would be taken if they didn’t move. 

Such a reasonable expectation, right? Like expecting government employees to oversee and to ensure adherence to practices and provisions to keep kitchens free from contamination and congregate settings as protected as possible from COVID and other potentially deadly illnesses being transmitted.

I rewatched the part of the YouTube “September 2022” Whatcom County Jail Tour recording to clarify the details of what I had seen a couple days ago. And I saw the part where Whatcom County Corrections Lieutenant Caleb Erickson and Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force Co-Chair Jack Hovenier entered the kitchen (without masks) and talked about the moldy ceiling conditions. This was the main part of their exchange about the mold:

Jack Hovenier: “So, Lieutenant Erickson, I know this is a dish tank, and so you’re going to have humidity, but still, I was talking to an inmate. He gets mold literally coming down. I mean look at this, this is literally coming down on him.”

Lieutenant Caleb Erickson: “Yeah, that’s exactly right. Again, another situation where we’ve got low ventilation, or at least not very much evacuation of hot air and it condenses on the ceiling.”

Jack Hovenier: “I mean, if this were a restaurant in Bellingham, the Health Department would shut it down for the mold, I think, coming down into this dish area. It’s really not safe”

Here is a link to the jail tour recording where you can listen to the portion focusing on the kitchen area. (It’s worth noting that when they show jail workers in the kitchen, even though their faces are blurred in the video, you can tell that they are not wearing masks, which is particularly concerning when there is conversation in the video about the dangers of transmitting COVID and that there is poor air circulation in the jail, especially in the kitchen and bathrooms.):