Monday, December 3, 2012

Building a Jail in Whatcom County: Part I

via Prison Population Rates per 100,00. The United States leads the World.

There will be a presentation on the new jail siting Tuesday, December 4th at  Whatcom county council chambers. The council meeting starts at 7:00 PM. Kudos to the indefatigable Riley Sweeney for keeping us in the loop on this issue during the Christmas Season. See Riley's  provocative posts here and here.  If you are attending or concerned, I found the 02.03.2011 minutes of a packed public meeting a very good read. Jean Melious discusses jail siting impacts and that meeting here. There are also interesting 9/15/2011 Whatcom County Jail Planning Task Force minutes here. Here is the Whatcom County Jail Siting Index. Here is the Whacom County Sheriff and Jail Budget for 2013 and 2014. Here is 'Sheriff Bill Elfo's blog' and his recent budget presentation to the County Council.  And here is a partial list of a bunch of really scary articles on the growth in our prison population and its service by private corporations:

Here are some really scary wikipedia (wikifile) charts:

Amazon Books 'peak inside' at Marc Mauer's "Race to Incarcerate"

Clearly, at the current increasing rates of incarceration in America, the best reason for attending a meeting on jail or prison planning is that someday each of us is likely to spend some time incarcerated. I don't have much to say about all of this.  I know Sheriff Bill Elfo. He is a really competent and approachable public servant.  I would be surprised if he wasn't doing his absolute best to bring safety and justice to Whatcom County.  On the other hand,  I find that living in a society where financial interests like "Seeking Alpha" discuss prison building as  a recession proof and reliable American growth industry terrifying.

My father died last Christmas. He was a high school American history teacher of no small charisma. I have been remembering his analogies and speeches from week to week as I wander through this world without him.  My father loved to demonstrate the polarities of human nature by discussing Athens and Sparta. My guess is half of what he told me has been historically repudiated by someone. But here is what my Dad used to say:  "We have two choices in life. We can live openly and honestly with respect for the opinions of others, the arts, music, and our own creativity. In this case, we will be Athenian in our lifestyle: willing to grant each other the respect it takes to build a working, creative, democracy.  Or we can live like Spartans: lives of strict self-denial and discipline. No ecstatic victories of intellectual achievement, just slave-taking for our conquests.  Eventually, through such a path, we will take on so many slaves and incur so much hatred that we will have to spend more and more resources to control those we have enslaved and protect ourselves. And then we will be neither happy nor free."

No matter how inaccurate my father's historical moral analogy might have been, his thoughts are worth thinking about when we consider American incarceration rates today and their costs to all of us.


Expected Optimism said...

The broader incarceration problem in the US seems to be largely driven by the war on drugs. That will, theoretically, no longer be a problem in Washington, at least not for local jails.

Riley said...

Thank you for the shout out! A note about the drug war. In Washington, marijuana possession is usually a "take on" charge. It isn't the sole reason for arrest and incarceration but rather adds time to a sentence. It will shorten jail visits (which will reduce the load) but not necessarily the number of people incarcerated.

Ryan M. Ferris said...

Thanks for your comments! I also think the example of the always sizzling economy of Yakima County building a super-sized jail in their downtown is instructive.....