Whatcom County has run jail diversion programs since the main jail opened.
Whatcom County District Court supervises about 225 inmates a day who have been released by a District Court Judge on Pre-Trial Supervision. These offenders are supervised by District Court Probation Officers, and allowed to remain in the community while waiting for their case to be settled. The program is used for offenders who often can’t afford bail, and are too high a risk to simply release into the community without any kind of supervision.
We have 7 inmate work crews. These offenders go out into the community 5 days a week and work on community projects. These projects include picking up litter along county roads, restoring salmon habitat, maintaining all of the landscaping around all county buildings and community projects like the Million Smiles playground in Lynden and picking up the 4th of July trash at Birch Bay. The crews work under the supervision of a civilian Crew Supervisor and each inmate is “paid” with time off of their sentence. Some of the crew members stay at the work center and some are able to return home each night. The crews regularly perform over a $1 million worth of labor per year for the community.
We have one of the strongest Electronic Monitoring programs in the state. Inmates are authorized by a judge to be on the program, and then they are screened and evaluated to make sure they are appropriate. If accepted for the program, the inmates are fitted with an electronic “bracelet” around their ankle and are monitored. This program allows inmates to go to school, to work, to treatment etc. but still remain monitored. Inmates have to pay for this program, so they help off-set the staff and equipment costs.
Inmates are authorized by a judge to be on this program, and they are screened and evaluated prior to being accepted. If they are accepted, they are able to go to work during their normal working hours, and then return to the Work Center for their time off. This allows them to keep their jobs and help support their families while serving their jail time. Inmates pay to be on this program on a sliding scale, depending on their income.
This program works much like Work Release, but allows offenders to continue their education while completing their jail sentences. The fee is a flat rate, since many are not working.
This program is run by District Court Probation and allows offenders to avoid jail time by working in the community for a set number of days. People fulfill their community service hours with a variety of different non-profit organizations, and are able to “pay back” the community through their labor, rather than sit in jail as a punishment.
Drug Court: This program is run by Whatcom County Superior Court. It allows offenders who meet criteria to be diverted into a special program aimed at helping them get their drug problems under control. It is a 1 to 2 year program and if successfully completed it, their charge will be dismissed. It allows eligible offenders to avoid jail, get help with their drug problem and get their legal case taken care of.
Misdemeanant Behavioral Health Unit
This program is supervised by District Court Probation and provides specialized supervision for misdemeanor offenders with mental health issues. Probation works with various community services to stabilize the offender in the community and help them satisfy the court obligations. This may include helping get a mentally ill offender into treatment, working with the homeless coalition to find housing, or connecting the offender to organizations to assist with getting mental health medications.