The Whatcom County jail is in major disrepair and a new facility will provide better conditions for inmates and protection from legal liability. But your recent article describing the jail facility as a “human rights issue” misses the mark.
Our jail routinely holds people whose “crimes” are mental illness, drug addiction and poverty. Over half of the jail population is pretrial, there only because they cannot afford the same bail that you or I could. Many inmates are people who could be productive members of society, paying their taxes and working, instead of costing taxpayers thousands. We lock people up when what they really need is a GED, a decent working class job or an affordable home.
Many Americans are finally realizing that mass incarceration is a national embarrassment. A recent coalition of conservative and progressive leaders — including Koch Industries and the ACLU — has called for reducing incarceration rates and costs. Whatcom County should join the trend toward criminal justice reform. We should focus on reducing our jail population through smart alternatives, diversion programs, more mental health and drug treatment programs, restorative and community justice, and better reentry programs. It’s important to improve jail conditions, but if we continue to see crumbling buildings as the biggest human rights abuse, we are in real trouble.