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Bellingham adds jail in King County as backup plan for inmates

Inmates are cuffed at the Whatcom County Jail Thursday, March 26, 2015, in Bellingham. The city has signed a contract with a jail in King County to take some inmates if the Whatcom jail and the Yakima County Jail don’t have room available.
Inmates are cuffed at the Whatcom County Jail Thursday, March 26, 2015, in Bellingham. The city has signed a contract with a jail in King County to take some inmates if the Whatcom jail and the Yakima County Jail don’t have room available. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

City Council added another backup plan for Bellingham inmates who need to be moved from the overcrowded Whatcom County Jail.

On Monday, March 21, council members approved an as-needed contract with the South Correctional Entity regional jail, commonly known as SCORE, located in King County.

“This is as-needed, and would only be used if absolutely necessary,” City Attorney Peter Ruffatto told the council during an afternoon committee update.

Because the city did not promise to send a certain number of inmates to the facility per year, the cost to house someone there would be charged at higher rate of $157 per day. The cost would be $105 per day if the city were to guarantee a certain number of inmates.

The city has moved inmates to Yakima County Jail on a weekly basis since mid-January, in response to Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo’s policy shift in the new year to keep the population in the main Whatcom County Jail at or below about 212 inmates. The daily cost to house inmates in Yakima is about $54.

The city is able to transfer inmates who only have misdemeanor charges in Bellingham. The county is responsible for all people being held on felony charges, regardless of which agency books them into jail.

Since the beginning of the year, there have been on average about seven inmates with Bellingham-only charges in the main jail on any given day, making the city’s inmates a relatively small percentage of the total jail population, Ruffatto told the council.

As of Friday, March 18, the city had eight people in the main jail, 13 in the work center on Division Street, and seven people on electronic home monitoring through the city’s contract with Friendship Diversion Services.

“I have to express my frustration with this, having to go to this level of spending staff time and legal department time, when out of 206 inmates we are accountable for seven,” council member Dan Hammill said during the afternoon meeting. “Does the $157 per day include transportation?”

Ruffatto said that transportation to SCORE would not be included in the $157 cost, unlike the city’s contract with Yakima, which covers the cost of transportation. The contract with SCORE states that there would be a $400 fee for transportation, per trip, though there likely would be other options if the city needed to move an inmate to the facility, he said.

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil

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