Current Whatcom County Justice Project needs assessment was not comprehensive / Noisy Waters Northwest

Click the screenshot from a portion of the Summary section The Vida Agency Draft Research Report Justice Project Engagement Findings to access the draft report

March 23, 2023 Dena Jensen

Here is an excerpt from Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) for the Whatcom County Justice Project December 15, 2022 10:00 – 12:00 pm Meeting Minutes

“TVA [The Vida Agency who created the Public Engagement Plan for the needs assessment] conducted 6 listening sessions with 29 participants, and 8 informal interviews. The participants included representatives of immigrant communities, Lummi Nation, and formerly incarcerated people and their families.

• It is important to keep in mind the small sample size when interpreting the results.”

Folks should think about this when our local officials in Whatcom County are talking about the process and outreach of the Justice Project needs assessment being comprehensive. It is valuable to note that according to one SAC member, and in addition to the outreach mentioned in the meeting notes above, “There have been two official surveys and an ad-hoc survey. One official survey focused on SAC members, the other on community members reviewing the goals of the SAC members. There was no official survey that focused on discovery from the community at large.”

It’s only been three years since the Whatcom County Health Board affirmed that racism is a public health crisis. We still do not have an officially operating Race and Equity Commission.  

How would it be possible for us to have achieved a Stakeholder Advisory Committee needs assessment process that can be considered comprehensive with only a couple of people of color participating on the committee, after a couple of resource-sucking pandemic years? 

I am not saying people participating were not trying to figure out how to be inclusive. What I am saying is that conditions were such that they could not be. 

I am not saying this discredits the entirety of results of the SAC process. What I am saying is that when officials tell the public, as they already have and likely will, time after time as they move forward with their implementation plan, that the needs assessment process and/or outreach was comprehensive or extensive – it was not. It was an improvement over any previous communications efforts related to jail tax initiatives in the past, but it was not comprehensive. 

Here is a section from notes taken at a Nov. 29, 2022 SAC Racial Equity Toolkit Meeting (two weeks prior to the meeting the notes excerpt at the beginning of this post was taken from) that no people of color participated in:

“Could we/should we do more? Was our approach adequate?

• We have done a pretty good job given the community engagement work and identifying areas where there isn’t much data. The criminal legal system sections have some data, but not enough.

• We never have enough data. We will never be able to adequately evaluate implementation without better data.

“Ways the Needs Assessment process has fallen short, when considering a racial equity perspective:

• Not enough inclusion of people of color on the SAC.

• Having a representative from each of the tribes didn’t meet the need for their inclusion, as they did

not choose to participate.

• Not enough inclusion of people of color who have been incarcerated.

• We don’t have any people of color helping with this RET analysis today.

• TVA began their work late in the process.

• Needed more outreach to tribes sooner.

• Asking for representatives from the Lummi Nation & Nooksack Tribe is a flawed approach because it:

o Doesn’t honor the fact that the tribes are sovereign governments.

o They are busy and understaffed.

o They are being asked to participate in whiteprocesses, some of which are with groups that are rife with racist behaviors.

o One person shouldn’t be responsible for representing a whole collection of experiences &perspectives.

o They often aren’t paid for their time to participate(the SAC didn’t offer compensation).”