Justice Project (Public Health, Safety & Justice Initiative)

Justice Project Needs Assessment Report

On January 26, 2023, the Stakeholder Advisory Committee approved a motion to recommend the final Justice Project Needs Assessment Report to County Council. The Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force (IPRTF) endorsed the report at their meeting on January 23, 2023. The Whatcom County Council received a presentation on the report in a Committee of the Whole meeting on February 7, 2023 (AB2023-106) and approved Resolution 2023-006 to accept the report on February 21, 2023. 

Click here to view the final Whatcom County Justice Project Needs Assessment report.

The next step in the project is the development of a detailed Implementation Plan that will identify a project list to address the recommendations of the Needs Assessment. Click here for more information on the Implementation Plan

Project Development 

On August 7, 2019, the Whatcom County Council approved Resolution 2019-036, adopting a statement of public health, safety, and justice facility planning principles for Whatcom County. The resolution identifies a need to plan for a criminal justice system that is built to address the root causes of incarceration and designed with rehabilitation as the goal. It prioritizes community-based preventative services, successful re-entry, and reducing recidivism (re-incarceration). It focuses on reducing demand for jail by investing in behavioral health services.  Additionally, the County Council identified a desire for a potential ballot initiative. On September 10, 2019, Councilmember Buchanan, the Executive's Office, the Sheriff, and the Health Department presented to the Council a further developed task list to complete a needs assessment, see Exhibit A. On December 3, 2019, the Whatcom County Council established a Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) to guide the development of a needs assessment (Resolution 2022-021 as amended).

On February 11, 2020, the Whatcom County Council authorized a contract for consultant services to complete the Public Health, Safety, and Justice Needs Assessment (AB2020-055). On March 25, 2020, the project team announced a pause in the project due to the COVID-19 public health emergency. A June 23, 2020 memo to SAC members from Executive Sidhu, Sheriff Elfo, Councilmember Buchanan, and Prosecutor Richey extended the pause on the project through the end of the year.

Project Restarted 

On September 28, 2021, the Council passed a motion to re-engage the Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) members, and the first SAC meeting was held on January 20, 2022.  On April 26, 2022, an update on the project was provided to Council (see AB2022-159), including a presentation on the work to date with the SAC and the plan moving forward to create a needs assessment report. On September 13, 2020, Council authorized two contracts for consulting services to support the project in communications and in meeting facilitation (AB2022-475 and AB2022-495). A communications consultant will be assisting with implementation of a public engagement plan for the project (see plan and appendices). More information about the activities of the SAC throughout 2022 is available on the SAC Meetings and Additional Information page.  

Online Survey & Public Engagement

The Whatcom County Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) asked community members to take a brief online survey to share their feedback on our community's needs for facilities and services before, during, and after incarceration. Public input guides the development of a Justice Project Needs Assessment report. The online survey closed on November 18,2022 with over 1,700 respondents. Additionally, The Vida Agency (TVA) conducted listening sessions and informal interviews in October and November, 2022, to get feedback from tribal members, immigrants, and individuals previously incarcerated, and family members of individuals previously incarcerated. TVA created a website, www.whatcomjusticeproject.org, to offer the public information about the project and opportunities to share their voice. The following reports summarize the efforts and resulting feedback:

Video Tour of County Jail 

In September 2022, a video was created to give Stakeholder Advisory Committee Members a tour of the county's main jail facility to better understand the current conditions. Click here to view the video tour of the main jail.


Individuals who require special assistance to participate in the meeting are asked to contact the Council Office at 360.778.5010 at least 96 hours in advance.

  • Stakeholder Advisory Committee Meeting information (including zoom join links, recordings, and agenda materials) is available here:
    SAC Meetings and Additional Information
  • Whatcom County Justice Updates, September 23, 2019  7:00-8:30 p.m..
    Whatcom County Council Chambers, 311 Grand Avenue, Bellingham, WA 98225
    Click here to view a press release for this event.
    Click here to view a video of the meeting.
    Click here to view the presentation slides.

Background Information