In the age of mass incarceration, in which the U.S. has 25 percent of the world’s prison population, but just 5 percent of the world population of people, we should be following a path that leads to putting fewer people in jail.
The Whatcom Civil Rights Project (WCRP) is aware of some preliminary data that show disproportionate arrests of Black people in Bellingham and Whatcom County (4 to 5.4 times more arrests for Blacks, compared to non-Blacks. FBI and Consensus Data 2013), and higher populations of Aboriginals, Blacks, and Latinos in the county jail:
Incarceration rates in Whatcom County jail:
Looking through a race lens, white people are underrepresented in the jail population:
67 percent of jail population, compared to 87.6 percent of the general population
From Public Records Request by WCRP and provided by the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Department’s 2013 Jail Report
Though these rates may seem appalling, they are probably underestimated: Stop and searches of people of color are not reported by law enforcement and many community members of color have stated that they are cited as “white” when they clearly are not. The disparate impact of more people of color and marginalized people jailed in our communities is the result of various points of failure in our criminal justice system, not just on the first frontline of law enforcement.
The reality of racial profiling and biased policing is a significant and large component of our jail issue, as our arrest and jail population rates indicate. This is a national issue that is widely talked about. We should do not dismiss Bellingham and Whatcom County as exceptional. Science shows racial bias is a nationwide problem. Targeted local communities have known this for years, and mass incarceration is the most recent chapter in a long local history of exclusion, racial violence, and discrimination.
The WCRP strongly urges support for measures that reduce our jail population and provide solutions to alternatives to incarceration: