Follow the money

What will it mean if Proposition 2017-6 is passed?

By Gwen Frost

Let’s “Follow the Money Trail” was a Town Hall panel discussion, housed in the Leopold hotel began at 7 p.m., after a 6:30 reception and screening of the video “Stop the Con: Invest in People’s Success not in Failure”. On Wednesday, Oct. 4, the Town Hall panel met with five local experts: an attorney, an accountant, a professor and two businessmen. The experts spoke about the economics of the proposed .2% Jail Sales tax initiative that is up for vote, called “Proposition 2017-6”. The underlying question that is contested with this initiative is “should taxpayers pay for a bigger jail?” The panel and experts explained that rather than advocating for jail industry expansion, we should instead focus tax dollars and government effort on justice reform and economic improvement for our community.

The host, Joy Gilfilen, is the President of the Restorative Community Coalition,“They followed the money. They learned stuff they didn’t want to know about our jail and justice system.”

The additional jail tax is depicted as regressive, as will take over $7.5 million of buying power out of the community. And as most non-proportional universal taxes do, this tax would affect the homeless and low-income more than the middle and upper-class. Small businesses also suffer particularly, as there would be less money circulating through our local economy. The $7.5 million will grow an even bigger government, and a higher percentage will leave the community and turn over to big banks and the private jail system.

This tax will possibly also hold a precedent for further taxes to be incurred upon expanding the prison industrial complex. The panel and experts wanted to highlight alternatives to building a third jail in the County, as we already have two. The blame for the bloating of the two currently funded jails were blamed by a faulty justice system. Fix the system, send less people to jail and there would be no need for a new jail. Our criminal justice system already consumes $15.7 million yearly in extra sales taxes earmarked specially for criminal justice, public safety and behavioral and mental health services. Groups in alliance that would also be good to support are the Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force, the Vera Institute, the Restorative Community Coalition and others working towards solutions. The event was supported by the Local Justice Reform now Political PAC, Grassroots Action Whatcom County, Restorative Community Coalition and members of Indivisible, the Racial Justice Coalition and INK.

Cutting incarceration rates isn’t uncharted territory; it’s been done, and it’s happening right now. New Jersey cut their jail returns by half, because instead of sending parole-breakers back to jail, they are sent to workshops that address the issues that got them in trouble. This created a 38.2 percent reduction of inmates incarcerated due to drug charges from 2013 to 2017. Thousands of those arrested for drug-crimes were redirected from jails to drug-treatment programs throughout the state of New York in 21 counties, under a 5-year initiative planned by Gov. Chris Christie.

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