Incarceration Prevention & Reduction Task Force: Vera Report Update

In 2016, the Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force worked with the Vera Institute of Justice, a nationally-renowned organization with experts committed to promoting improvements in our nation’s criminal justice and public safety systems, to evaluate and ultimately help improve Whatcom County’s mechanisms for reducing incarceration.

In 2017, the Vera Institute delivered its Report to Whatcom County Stakeholders on Jail Reduction Strategies. The report outlines recommendations in five key areas to help reduce and prevent incarceration in Whatcom County:

  1. Reduce jail admissions through diversion
  2. Curtail new and outstanding warrants for low-level charges
  3. Utilize individualized, data-driven risk assessment for pretrial release
  4. Develop a case flow management plan to reduce time to disposition and shorten length of jail stays
  5. Create oversight and accountability mechanisms

Since then, a great deal of work has been done to increase resources and programs that address underlying causes of incarceration to lead people out of the criminal legal system and into supportive services.

In 2023, the County worked with Dr. Jennifer Schwartz at Washington State University to deliver its Report to Whatcom County Stakeholders on Progress Towards Reducing the Jail Population.

The WSU progress report found that Whatcom County has made major investments and strides forward in its efforts to reduce incarceration:

  • Expanding behavioral health resources and programs
  • Reducing use of jail for lower-level charges
  • Increasing use of release from jail without bail
  • Establishing pretrial services and utilizing court reminder system
  • Creating oversight and accountability mechanisms via the Law and Justice Council
  • Investing in data platforms and analysts, and using information reflectively
  • Taking steps to resolve cases earlier

The 2017 Vera report and the 2023 WSU report card outline key challenges as well as recommendations that will inform the ongoing work of the IPRTF, as well as Whatcom County’s Justice Project Implementation Plan.

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