Wally Wonders Why No editor, no publisher, you get what you get

December 12, 2012

Right Size Jail

What is the right size jail for Whatcom County?

We need bigger prisons in general, not because we are going to lock up more people for petty crimes, but because about 20 years ago we as a society decided that on your 3rd strike you were out for at least 25 years to life. And in the couple of decades since that time our prison populations have doubled and not surprisingly violent crimes across the country have dropped nearly 50%. This all makes sense, keep the repeat offenders off the streets and the streets are free from the crimes committed by repeat offenders.

The price for this 3 strike policy is building and running prisons to house these 3 strikers for 25 years to life from the date of their 3rd strike conviction. I’ve read that the average age of 3 strikers is in their mid-30’s so even those locked up at the start of the program back in the early 90’s haven’t reached the 25 year mark, let alone our average life expectancy which if I remember correctly is about 75-plus. Prison population will not plateau until the inmates start being released or dying at the same rate they are being handed their 3 strikes sentence. Doing the math says that this plateau will be somewhere around 2025, which is the average between 2018 if everyone received minimum sentence and 2033 if everyone received life.

For the safety of the rest of us, we need to plan for this continued growth in prison population so that we have the means to house violent criminals for the duration of their sentence without overloading the prisons and forcing judges to release people who should be locked up. Too many times lately I have seen that the authorities are hunting for someone who is known to be violent and dangerous, only to find out that they were in jail and just recently released. We are currently right in the middle of one of those cases here in Whatcom County.

A few years ago he was booked on multiple accounts including assault, last week he was picked up and jailed on a Dept of Correction violation, then yesterday he kidnaps someone at gun point, and today police are looking for him. How safe are we? How is law enforcement supposed to protect and serve when violent criminals are on a catch and release program?

What is the right size jail for Whatcom County? I say take the high estimate and add 25% capacity to it for good measure. That’s the kind of jail that I think is the right size jail. In order to maximize safety, we need to keep criminals off the street to the full legal extent of the law and to do that we need a big a*s right size jail, right now!

1 Comment

  1. Wally,

    Thank you for mentioning the 3 strikes rule. Your example belongs to the broader phenomenon attributed to the State Legislature manipulating sentencing schemes such that the burden of incarceration is pushed onto local and county residents.

    A few examples of this include DUI laws precipitating from the 80’s MADD national campaign; more recent “updated” state laws requiring an overnight stay for influenced drivers; now the unknown affects of the marijuana DUI laws; recent domestic violence laws requiring a stay by one of the arguing partners.

    Apart from the fact that some crimes now mandate an automatic stay; legislators rearrange sentencing schemes that require offenders to serve time at local jails instead of state operated prisons. Whatcom county residents bear the cost of county jail operations. A group I am part of, Public Safety Now, interviewed a local judge about this trend: http://buildasafejail.com/alternative-programs/

    I hope people who choose to inform themselves about the new jail take into consideration the myriad of factors affecting jail populations and criminal justice planning. The above phenomenon is only one of the factors.

    Thank you,

    Constantine Papadakis

    Comment by Constantine Papdakis — December 19, 2012 @ 5:13 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress