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Incarceration in Whatcom County

The County is developing a Needs Assessment around behavioral health and public safety, which will reshape incarceration in Whatcom County.

Change is underway…

Your community needs your insight and your voice!

You can help inform the changes Whatcom County is making to incarceration and the systems that surround it.


Survey Deadline: November 18

Vision & Values

Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Accountability

Whatcom County is a model for community safety, health, and justice by reducing the need for incarceration through early intervention and long-term investments in people and programs that support prevention, rehabilitation, and accountability in the community and within the criminal legal system.

  • Protect public health and safety.
  • Prioritize timely and early interventions to save lives, improve outcomes, and save money over the long term.
  • Openly and actively address inequities and discrimination.
  • Facilitate public engagement in transparent decision-making processes that reflect community priorities.
  • Ensure systems, services, and facilities are adaptable to changing circumstances and needs.
  • Identify, implement, and expand evidence-based best practices.
  • Use measurable goals and reliable data to evaluate the success of interventions and innovations and inform decision-making.
  • Honor the humanity of all parties involved in the criminal legal system.
Blue sky at dusk and the current crisis stabilization center building identified by the numbers two, zero, two, six.
Current crisis stabilization center dining room with tables and chairs
A plainly decorated room with a small bed in the corner

Current crisis stabilization center / Anne Deacon Center for Hope in Whatcom County.


Facilities, Staffing, Resources, and Services

Our goal is to provide adequate facilities, staffing, resources, and services at all points of contact between the community and the criminal legal system.

Invest in the Long Term

Reduce jail population

  • Prevent crime
  • Reduce crimes of poverty
  • Divert low-risk offenders
  • Address conditions that lead to repeat offenders

Increase fairness and efficiency

  • Address disparities and inequities
  • Provide speedy and fair resolutions
  • Increase workplace diversity
  • Improve outcomes
  • Make decisions transparently and with community
  • Reduce high cost of incarceration
  • Get better at collecting and tracking data

Be more humane, safe, and reliable

  • Make facilities safe and healthy for staff, visitors, and offenders
  • Improve workplace conditions to attract great workers
  • Make spaces and services adaptable to change

Focus on reentry


  • Behavioral and mental health services
  • Substance abuse support
  • Supported housing
  • Medical care
  • Post-incarceration job opportunities
Medical office room, white furniture, bookcases and medical stretcher
Work Center medical room
A room with tables and assorted equipment
Work Center large dorm room
Large dorm with several cabins and tables
Work Center recreational area


Before, During, and After Incarceration

The County has identified specific gaps in service as barriers to fulfilling the project’s values and goals. Click here to watch a video of the main jail’s current conditions.


Services for people who are waiting for their court date, such as safety monitoring and mental health screening
  • Increased access to mental health/substance use disorder (SUD) assessments on demand without waiting
  • Transportation to and from community service facilities
  • Additional resources to fully implement and expand the Public Safety Assessment and monitoring of people released pending trial.

Post-Trial / Incarceration

Services for the convicted, such as substance use treatment, job training, education, and the jail
  • Dedicated housing for therapeutic court members
  • More mental health/Intensive Case Managers for the incarcerated
  • Evidence-based services for people with substance use disorders who are incarcerated
  • Replacement of current jail facility with one that is safe and adapted to support services and reentry approach
    (current jail, built in the 1980s, is deteriorating and lacks dedicated space for support services.

Post-Incarceration & Reentry

Services that assist people released from jail to find things like jobs and housing and reduce the chance they will re-offend
  • Housing units dedicated for reentry population and with on-site supports
  • Increased community re-entry case management services and support
  • Access to clinical support and onsite or improved intensive case management
  • Method to ensure Medicaid reinstatement upon release
Prison cell, one bed, one toilet and sink
Main jail, cell designed for 1 inmate now has 3
Healthcare staff working in limited work space
Main jail, healthcare staff have limited work space
Three people working in a large kitchen, there are pots and pans and a sink
Main jail, kitchen designed to serve 150 people struggles to serve over 400

Behavioral Services

Support at Every Point of Interaction

The County works in partnership with other government agencies, nonprofits, and private entities to provide wrap-around services in each of the following areas.

  • Community Services
  • Law Enforcement & Community Safety
  • Initial Detention & Court Hearing Services
  • Court Services and Jails
  • Reentry & Post-Incarceration Services
Current crisis stabilization center bedroom with a bed, a table and a window
Current crisis stabilization center in Whatcom County

Project Timeline

Engaging with Community

It is important that we hear from the diverse communities that comprise Whatcom County. We especially want to hear from the communities most impacted by incarceration. The Justice Project Needs Assessment will incorporate feedback from the survey and facilitated community conversations. A complete report from the public input and the final Needs Assessment will be made public in early 2023.


Jail Planning Task Force is developed to address overcrowding and increased need for behavioral health and other services.


Task Force recommends building a new, expanded jail facility.


Whatcom County purchases land in Ferndale for $6.1 million for a new jail facility.


Voters reject proposition No. 2015-1 to fund a new, expanded jail with a 0.2% sales tax increase.

Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force is established.


Voters reject proposition No. 2017-6 to fund a new, expanded jail with a 0.2% sales and use tax.


County conducts a Criminal Justice and Public Committee Listening Tour and an online survey for those who cannot meet in person. Participants are predominantly white, with over half over 50 years old. Participants ask the County to prioritize rehabilitation over punishment and address the root causes of incarceration.


County forms a committee to develop a Justice Project Needs Assessment and engages diverse communities to provide feedback and help guide recommendations.

Join us at the Whatcom County Town Hall Listening Session on November 15th at 6:00pm. Click here to join via Zoom or attend in person at 311 Grand Avenue, Bellingham, WA 98225.

Early 2023

Justice Project Needs Assessment available for public viewing.

What should happen next? Take the survey by Nov. 18.