July 24, 2014

Alternatives to Incarceration

Chief Corrections Deputy Wendy Jones and Sheriff Bill Elfo

The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office operates one of the most robust jail alternative programs in the State.  These programs incorporate aspects of restorative justice and provide offenders with the opportunity to develop work skills and habits, maintain their jobs, continue to support their families, and serve their sentence in a less restrictive manner without exposure to some of the more hardened criminals who are housed at the main jail.  These programs also lower incarceration costs and require offenders to contribute to the cost of their participation.

Electronic Home Detention (EHD):  Offenders allowed to serve sentences on EHD are monitored through an electronic bracelet that is worn on their ankles.  Offenders in this program are generally confined to their homes but are allowed to go to work, school or treatment.  Candidates for EHD must be granted permission by the sentencing judge to participate in the program and meet Sheriff’s Office standards for participation.  Offenders are required to pay for the cost of this program.

Work Release/School Release:  Offenders in this program are housed in the Jail Work Center but are allowed to leave for work or school.  To participate in this program, offenders must be granted permission by the sentencing judge and meet legal and Sheriff’s Office standards for participation.  Offenders are required to pay a percentage of their gross income to cover the cost of their incarceration and supervision.  Offenders who attend school are required to pay a flat fee.

Out of Custody Work Crews: Out-of-Custody work crews live in their homes, but report to the Jail Work Center 5 days a week to work on a variety of projects. Most projects involve work in the County’s Parks System. Offenders assigned to this program are frequently working off fines they cannot pay.  This eliminates the old practice of “pay or stay” where offenders remain jailed if they could not pay fines.

In Custody Work Crews: In Custody work crews are housed at the Jail Work Center and work a 40 hour week.  We currently have 7 in-custody work crews that perform a variety of tasks such as litter pick up along County roads and state highways, maintenance of the lawns and landscaping on all County buildings, trail and campsite maintenance in the Mt. Baker National Forest lands, stream and salmon habitat restoration, and a small jail industry program of propagating and selling native plants, the profits of which go into the County General Fund.

The Sheriff’s Office contracts with a variety of governmental and non-profit entities to provide labor, which generates revenues that help off-set the cost of the crews.  It is estimated that the crew will generate approximately $500,000 in revenue for 2011 that will help off-set the cost of their incarceration.  The Sheriff’s Office also makes the crews available to help with community projects at no charge.  This has include the building of Million Smiles Park in Lynden, the moving of the Opportunity Council offices, annual clean up at the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds, and the annual clean up of the area used by the Relay for Life walk in downtown Bellingham and in Birch Bay after the Fourth of July.  In return for working, the crew members are given additional time off of their sentences.

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