Saturday, October 21, 2017

Fixing the existing jail is not feasible!

One claim made by many is that the County ought to just repair the existing jail and continue to use it instead of spending so much money to build a new jail. That type of statement has been oft repeated, and seems to have started with an article in Northwest Citizen by Juliette Daniels.

First off, Juliette Daniels is a lawyer, and as a lawyer she is very good at advocating for the position she is being paid to advocate for. Her articles in NW Citizen are advocacy pieces meant to get people to vote against the jail, not educational pieces meant to help inform the public about both sides of the issue. She chooses pieces of reports very carefully to tell her side of the story. For instance she says this about the County study of the existing jail:

"While the Executive Summary of the Engineering Report states that a new jail is needed, that summary statement is unsupported by any details that follow in the report. The Engineering report estimates that it would cost $32.4 million to repair and use the two jails that we already have for the next 20 years." 

Her statement is not accurate. The $32.4 million figure is not correct, and that figure was not an estimate of what it would cost to create a humane jail layout with treatment cells and meeting facilities. That estimate was only to correct the serious health and human safety issues. The consultants did not give an estimate to actually remodel the building to be a code compliant and humane facility. To do the needed total remodel to create a jail with the humane attributes that nearly everyone says we should provide the study says this (page 79):

"This would require a complex design, essentially gutting the building and starting over within the same footprint. This would also entail relocating inmates and staff, while construction is underway. Our team does not recommend this option and feels it would still not achieve a better, or code compliant facility. The costs to undertake a major remodel such as this are potentially more than a new jail building in another location. Should the County wish to explore this option further, our team could complete a feasibility study and a cost / benefit analysis."

They do provide support for their statement unlike what Ms Daniels claims. Read the Operational Assessment piece that outlines a good deal of this, which can be found with the whole report at:

So yes we could spend $30-40 million to correct the current code deficiencies and address other health and safety concerns, but after spending that money we would still not have a jail that meets the needs that every group that has looked at the jail wants. It would not have adequate medical and detox facilities, and it would not have facilities for meeting space for inmates to meet with loved ones, lawyers, or take classes to prepare them for release. To provide those things would cost tens of millions of additional dollars, and such a remodel would leave us with a jail that could house many fewer inmates. The current jail is bursting at the seams and typically houses around 200 people per night. To add the needed facilities and get it up to code would leave us with many fewer beds - I have heard in the neighborhood of 125. That is not enough beds for the current use, and the current use already requires cities like Bellingham to ship people over to Yakima to house them. Shipping people out of their community is also not a recommended practice because it takes them away from whatever loved ones and support system they may have. Remodeling and continuing to use the existing jail would not save much money, and would ensure that some prisoners need to be sent out of the area. It also probably would mean that cities such as Bellingham would need to build their own separate facilities to handle people, at least temporarily. 

This oft repeated "just fix the current jail" idea does not seem like a responsible solution to me, and spending tens of millions of dollars on such a poor temporary fix also leaves us holding the bag for the ever increasing cost of a real long term solution.

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