Bellingham may change jail contract

BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- Bellingham officials appear ready to renegotiate a contract for jail services just weeks into an agreement that kept city police from booking some people into the Whatcom County Jail.

Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo told Bellingham Herald he's encouraged the city to agree to "Option 1" under a contract to keep people at the Whatcom County Jail downtown. That option, picked by all the other small cities in the county, requires cities to remove inmates within hours after their first court appearance if the sheriff deems the population in the downtown jail is getting too high.

Bellingham negotiated its own "Option 2," signed in mid-June, because the city couldn't realistically promise it would be able to move its inmates within four hours of a first appearance. Instead, Option 2 was to allow the city more flexibility and, the hope was, more time to plan if and when inmates were required to be moved to Yakima County Jail or the South Correctional Entity facility south of Seattle, both of which require hours of travel time.

But Option 2 also explicitly allowed for booking restrictions, and only two weeks after the city approved the contract, Elfo told his staff to start restrictions for Option 2 users once the jail population started to get close to a 212-person cap.

The downtown jail has 283 beds but was originally designed for 148 inmates. It has held even more than 283 at times, with the use of temporary cots but the sheriff said 212 people is the safe level for staff and the facility to handle.