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Beyond Bars

Beyond Bars: The future of justice in Whatcom County is a special report that explores the county’s controversial effort to build a new jail. Voters on recent jail bond measures made it clear they won’t accept a new jail without better social services for the people who wind up behind bars.

Written by Ralph Schwartz // Photos by Hailey Hoffman

In collaboration with KMRE Community Radio, with help from Whatcom County Community College student Marina Sanders and Western Washington University students Jenelle Baumbach, Halle Jordan and Kendall Welch.

One inmate sleeps on a mat on the floor of a cell a shared cell at the Whatcom County Jail on Nov. 30.

What will replace Whatcom County's failed jail?

Proposed remedies seek balance between safety, support

Read part one, which looks at conditions inside the existing jail, gleaned from a tour CDN and KMRE staffers took in November 2022. We also look at the ups and downs (mostly downs) of the jail measures placed on the ballot over the past 26 years.

Poor planning, levy defeats mar jail effort

Officials say Whatcom jail obsolete soon after it opened

Voters on recent jail bond measures made it clear they won’t accept a new jail without better social services for the people who wind up behind bars. The Whatcom County Jail was obsolete soon after it opened, officials said. Part two explains more about the two failed levies intended to replace the jail — and how that experience guides what’s likely to be a third.

A Whatcom County Corrections Officer holds a packet of Narcan to treat narcotic overdoses. Officers carry them in pockets and stash them around the gym, so they're easily accessible if and when they need them.

Most people in Whatcom County's jail are in crisis

Planners want social services in new lockup

Part three takes a closer look at three social ills that contribute to incarceration: homelessness, serious mental illness and substance use disorder.

Tony walks along Locust Beach in January. The last time he was at the beach was his last night sleeping in his car, the day he met Adam LAST NAME and also his 25th birthday. He carries a stick and a corn husk he found in the bushes, which he'd left a year prior.

Whatcom County wants to build more than just a jail

Officials hope social programs will curb incarceration

Part four examines possible solutions, both present and future, to “the big three” social ills. The story includes experiences of a diversion program participant, “Tony,” who agreed to share his story if he could maintain his privacy.