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Skagit County’s new jail will double capacity, provide behavioral health treatment

Skagit County held an open house July 11 at its new 400-bed Community Justice Center, a big step up from its current 83-bed jail. It’s one of the largest buildings in Mount Vernon.
Skagit County held an open house July 11 at its new 400-bed Community Justice Center, a big step up from its current 83-bed jail. It’s one of the largest buildings in Mount Vernon. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Skagit County officials celebrated the completion of the new jail facility Tuesday, a milestone that comes after decades of overcrowding in the current jail.

The new jail, called the Skagit County Community Justice Center, has room for 400 inmates, about double the current jail population and four times its initial capacity.

“The one sad thing is that we need to build a jail for 400 people,” County Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt said at the ceremony.

Sheriff Will Reichardt said when he was first elected in 2010, he found letters dating back to 1998 warning the county commissioners that overcrowding was a problem and was only going to get worse.

Dahlstedt said the facility will provide new opportunities for behavioral health treatment and job training to help inmates leave the jail better than when they entered it.

Charlie Wend, chief of corrections with the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office, said he’s been working on addressing jail overcrowding since 1995.

Wend said when he started working in corrections, the general thought was reforming inmates is largely impossible.

“Today, we know better,” he said. “Inmates can change.”

With new equipment, space and staff, Wend said the Community Justice Center will be able to offer specialized help.

“This is an exciting opportunity to guide our inmate populations in a new way,” he said.

The facility is set to open in the coming months, but the exact date won’t be made public for security reasons, Wend said.

County Commissioner Lisa Janicki called the project a testament to what can be accomplished with cooperation.

She said the funding agreement, born out of a voter-approved 0.4 percent sales tax increase and months of negotiations between the cities and the county, was done successfully and quickly.

Sheriff Will Reichardt said when he was first elected in 2010, he found letters dating back to 1998 warning the county commissioners that overcrowding was a problem and was only going to get worse.

“For many years, we’ve been struggling,” he said.

With the debut of the Community Justice Center, Reichardt said his staff have something to look forward to.

“Who’s got it better than me today?” he said.

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