By Ian Ferguson
Whatcom County Council will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, April 14 to hear comments on the proposed new Whatcom County Jail. The public is invited to discuss the jail proposal and offer specific ideas for jail diversion programs.
The total project cost of the new jail and sheriff facilities is budgeted at $122.5 million. A ballot measure for a construction bond to cover the cost of the new jail will likely head to the polls in August. The proposed measure, which would require a 50 percent voter approval, calls for a 2/10 of 1 percent sales tax to pay for the construction bond.
The main reason officials have given for the new jail is overcrowding and unsafe conditions at the current facility. Current jail capacity as designed is 298 while the average daily inmate population is 403, according to a March 31 presentation by Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws.
A jail planning task force formed in 2011 recommended a facility with 500-700 beds to allow for future population growth in Whatcom County. The task force recommendation released a statement about the urgent need for the new jail:
“Due to inadequate existing conditions of the physical plant, life safety concerns and overcrowding, significant and urgent improvements are needed to current adult correctional facilities, including the physical plant, programming and alternatives-to-incarceration. These changes are needed in order to provide safe and cost-effective criminal justice solutions for our community.”
The current proposal is for a new jail with 521 beds to be built on Labounty Road in Ferndale. The jail would include space for programming, medical treatment including mental health services, outdoor recreation space and special needs
Louws presented the latest update on the new jail project to county council on March 31. The slideshow from that presentation can be viewed at whatcomcounty.us/DocumentCenter/View/8503.
Council meetings are held in the Whatcom County Council Chambers, 311 Grand Avenue in Bellingham. The April 14 meeting begins at 7 p.m.