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Thursday, May 6, 2021

Protesters object to Whatcom County jail project

 

Protesters wait outside the mayor’s board room to share their opposition on March 31. // Photo by Questen Inghram

Written by: Questen Inghram

As the Whatcom County Council’s working group on the proposed jail met inside Bellingham City Hall, protesters opposed to the jail rallied outside.

“No means no,” the crowd of over two dozen chanted, in reference to the previous proposal to build a new jail in Whatcom County, which was rejected by voters in 2015.

The rally on March 31 was organized by the Restorative Community Coalition and the Young Democrats of Whatcom County.

Tatum Kenn, a freshman at Whatcom Community College, is a member of the Young Democrats.

“Our organization is strongly against the mega-jail,” Kenn said. “I think that we need to stop mass incarceration. It’s to me one of the biggest issues in this nation.”

Members of the workgroup include Mayor Kelli Linville, Sheriff Bill Elfo, Police Chief Cliff Cook and members of the Bellingham City Council and Whatcom County Council.  

Todd Donovan, political science professor and Whatcom County councilmember, is one such member.

“[The protesters] are rightfully linking increasing the potential size for incarceration to larger national issues about incarceration,” Donovan said.

Senior Kurt Price, president of the Young Democrats, has concerns with the implications of the jail’s size.

“Building a mega-jail, or any jail that’s just going to increase the size and capacity of who we put in isn’t going to do anything for the community,” he said. “It will just allow more people to be put in for profit.”

While the original proposal for the jail was a 521 bed facility, that has since been scaled down, yet still undecided, Donovan said.

“Building a mega-jail, or any jail that’s just going to increase the size and capacity of who we put in isn’t going to do anything for the community.”

Kurt Price, Young Democrats president

Many from the rally proceeded to walk into the mayor’s board room, where the meeting was held, and spoke out against a new jail during the public comment period.

Illustration by Shannon DeLurio

The workgroup will make a recommendation to the council on the financial agreements of the proposed jail, which will be put on a ballot measure no later than November 2017, according to the Whatcom County website.

The main speaker at the rally was Joy Gilfilen, president of the Restorative Community Coalition, an organization advocating for alternatives to incarceration.

“We need to do restorative justice, we need to do community rebuilding, we need to start doing rehabilitation, retraining and reeducation,” said Gilfilen. “[We need to do] all the rest of the stuff that builds community, [and] doesn’t tear it apart.”

Donovan said the workgroup negotiated that the proposed jail would be financed by sales tax. The workgroup is also working on how to portion the costs between cities and the county.

“The current facility is decaying,” Donovan said. “At least among my council colleagues there is a sense that we do need something better.”
The workgroup has met six times since September 15, 2016. The next meeting is scheduled to be 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. April 13.

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