What criteria are used to determine jail size, and how many beds are being proposed?

The current jail facility was originally built in 1984 for 148 people, though it experienced extreme overcrowding in the 1990s with populations over 260. The Interim Work Center, which opened in 2006, has capacity for 150 low-risk individuals, bringing the total number of available beds to 359. The average daily population across the two facilities hit highs of over 400 between 2007 and 2014 prior to many diversion programs being implemented. In May 2023, with booking restrictions in place, the average daily population of the combined facilities was 325.

A new jail and behavioral care center would absorb the population from the current jail and the Interim Work Center, which would then be replaced or repurposed. It would also incorporate a behavioral care center with additional beds.  

In calculating the size for detention facilities, the National Institute of Corrections recommends approximately 20 percent of additional capacity to allow for days with above average needs and accommodation of individuals with different security classifications. Adding 20 percent to the 359 current available beds results in a total of 430 beds. This estimate assumes very little change in the average daily population of people detained (with booking restrictions).

The Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) recommended the jail be right-sized without the use of booking restrictions. Ultimately, requirements about who has to be booked into the jail are established by state code. There are opportunities to release people prior to trial, but that’s at the discretion of the judge. Risk assessment tools can be helpful in determining who can safely await trial outside the jail, and who can participate in diversion programs, thereby reducing the population that is incarcerated.

For the purposes of cost estimation only, a conceptual bed count was defined. Preliminary concepts for the new jail facility account for minimum to high security housing for 400-440 individuals, not including behavioral care center beds, which are estimated to serve 60-75 individuals. A final size (bed count) still needs to be determined.

At the Council’s June 13th Special Committee of the Whole meeting, Council approved a motion to amend the Implementation Plan to clearly define the equation for calculating the number of beds that will be proposed initially and what triggers expansion. (AB2023-304).


Show All Answers

1. What's in the Justice Project Implementation Plan?
2. Who is guiding the work of the Justice Project?
3. What is the timeframe for proposed projects in the draft Implementation Plan?
4. How is the work of the current Justice Project different than previous efforts and ballot measures?
5. How will the public be informed about progress toward implementation plan projects and goals? How will the county be transparent in tracking progress?
6. How can community members provide feedback, ask questions, and offer input on the Justice Project and Implementation Plan?
7. What funding is available for proposed projects in the Implementation Plan?
8. What efforts have already been made to increase and enhance services for substance use disorder, mental health, and emergency response in Whatcom County?
9. What incarceration prevention and reduction strategies are being implemented?
10. How are people with lived experience and BIPOC communities involved in this process?
11. Who will provide oversight for Implementation projects?
12. What is the plan for replacing the jail?
13. Will funding a new jail and behavioral health center limit or reduce funding for substance use disorder, mental health, and other wraparound services?
14. Who is in the Whatcom County Jail, and why are they in jail?
15. Why are people in the jail pretrial?
16. Can the County eliminate bail?
17. What criteria are used to determine jail size, and how many beds are being proposed?
18. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each proposed location for a new jail and behavioral health and treatment facility?
19. What are the cost estimates for all the proposed facilities?
20. How was money from the 2004 tax (ballot measure) spent?