Whatcom County is transforming our approach to public safety, from a system focused on incarceration to one investing in equity, public health, and community safety.
Between 1970 and 2014, the number of people in jail in Whatcom County grew almost nine-fold—from 45 to 391 on any given day—while the overall county population only grew two-and-a-half times. In many cases people incarcerated were facing underlying challenges that led to incarceration, including behavioral health and substance use disorder.
The Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force has worked since 2015 to increase resources to address underlying causes of incarceration in order to prevent incarceration outright—and lead people out of the criminal legal system and into supportive services, reducing the chances of re-incarceration.
The Task Force is responsible for reviewing Whatcom County’s criminal legal and behavioral health programs and making specific recommendations on evidence-based programs and approaches to safely and effectively serve people first—reducing racial disparities in the system and the incarceration of individuals struggling with mental illness and substance use disorder.
The work of the Task Force and its partners across the North Sound region has helped to transform our thinking and decisions about incarceration and community safety, resulting in significant systemic changes, including:
● Anne Deacon Center for Hope. The Anne Deacon Center for Hope is a crisis stabilization center serving Whatcom County and the North Sound Region. The Center provides behavioral health and substance use disorder services, particularly for those who are frequently jailed or wind up in the emergency room.
● Co-Response Outreach. This program partners law enforcement officers on patrol with behavioral health professionals to help community members find immediate pathways to the right health services—rather than incarceration.
● GRACE Program. The Ground Level Response and Coordinated Engagement program partners with dozens of health, safety, and community-based organizations to support people often facing multiple health, mental health, substance use issues and traumas.
● LEAD Program. The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program with community members that have multiple low level criminal offenses as the result of mental, behavioral health, or substance use issues, to move from the criminal justice system into support health resources and programs.
● Subsidized in-home detention and reducing incarceration of pretrial defendants to help address and remove economic barriers which historically, disproportionately impact people of color.