The 2011 Dr. Farbstein Report

The Jay Farbstein Jail Report of October, 2011

The county paid, I have to presume this because I haven’t found a bill or payment for this yet, Dr. Farbstein a substantial amount of county taxpayer dollars to analyze the current jail situation in late 2011.

Dr. Farbstein is a well educated and highly credentialed architecture and design consultant with numerous achievements to his credit. Dr. Farbstein is the principle and mentor of Jay Farbstein and Associates, Inc of Los Angeles, CA.

Dr. Farbstein is a board member of the EDRA, Environmental Design Research Association.

Dr. Farbstein holds a PhD from the University of London, a Masters degree in Architecture from Harvard University and a Bachelors degree from the University of California, LA. You can read more about Dr. Farbstein here and here if you like.

Can we just suffice it to say that Dr. Farbstein isn’t a newbie to architecture, design, or planning and that he knows what he’s talking about?

The following observations and recommendations are excerpted from Dr. Farbstein’s report, which can be read in it’s entirety here: Jay Farbstein Jail Report 10 12 11

I hope every citizen of Whatcom County will read his observations and recommendations as not only a very astute and well informed unbiased third party, but as a highly educated, very experienced and credentialed expert in his field.

When you’ve digested what you’ve read here, please compare that to what two biased elected officials in particular have been telling you. One in particular, is how we got from 13 potential site options,……….to one,……with no dialogue, debate, public input, transparency, or explanation whatsoever from any county official.

To the primary observations and recommendations of the report (Bold emphasis as indicated in Dr. Farbstein’s original report). Again, the original report can be read here Jay Farbstein Jail Report 10 12 11:

Observation 1: While the JPTF (Jail Planning Task Force) is clearly a very dedicated, hard-working and intelligent group, it has been charged with responsibilities well beyond the capabilities of citizens and corrections professionals.

Recommendation 1: In order to be in a position to make recommendations on many of the requested topics, the JPTF (and the County) need substantial input and analysis that can only be provided by a qualified and experienced corrections planner. The County should take immediate steps toward obtaining the services of a corrections planner. This will likely entail several steps before such services can begin. These include the preparation and publication of a request for qualifications (or for proposals), receipt and evaluation of submissions, interviews and contracting. Even if expedited, it is likely that this process will take three to four months and it could take as long as six months. To assist in this process, a sample scope of services for jail planning is attached to this report. The scope covers the first three main steps in jail planning (needs assessment, feasibility study, and facility programming).

Observation 2: While the needs assessment prepared by the Omni Group in 2008 contains some useful data and analysis, it is lacking in certain important respects. First, it fails to evaluate scenarios that would entail implementation of further jail population management measures. This is part of the reason why it results in projection scenarios which may entail over-building of the jail. Second, it does not appear to have included a detailed profile of the inmate population. This information would be of great utility both with regard to the first item and also in further detailing the types of facilities and programs needed to serve the anticipated population. Third, the study did not include an examination of release mechanisms; this would also allow recommendations to be made concerning potential improvements in processing and other programs that could reduce length of stay (and therefore population).

Recommendation 2: The first main task for the corrections planner should be to update and expand the 2008 needs assessment, including the three elements identified above.

Observation 3: The Whatcom County justice and corrections systems are progressive and the various agencies and components appear to work together well and command each others mutual respect. However, an effective mechanism for shared problem-solving does not appear to be in place. (The Law and Justice Council, we were told, is perhaps a bit too unwieldy for such a purpose.)

Recommendation 3: In parallel with hiring the corrections planner, Whatcom County should create a Criminal Justice Planning (or Coordinating) Committee. While this committee could act on other issues, its main focus, at least initially, should be on reviewing practices and policies that impact the jail population. While jail population
management is not an explicit objective of many of the justice agencies, the charge of the group can be couched in terms of improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the system (including improvements in public safety and reduction of recidivism) – or other goals which are broadly shared. Of course, several of the key members of such a committee are elected officials with specific mandates – so they can only be invited, not compelled, to join and participate. Other jurisdictions which have created such an entity have found that it can have many positive outcomes.

Observation 4: Prior studies and current discussions have focused on two main jail facility options: a “vertical”/downtown solution or a “horizontal”/out-of-downtown solution. The former has been criticized as potentially extremely tall (with up to 2,450 beds, it would require a huge skyscraper) and the later was said to require a very large site. Evidence and opinion has been marshaled that suggests that it is much cheaper to build and operate a
horizontal jail. While construction may be cheaper, this consultant is not convinced by the evidence presented so far that horizontal version would be much (if any) cheaper to operate. In addition, there are many other costs and perhaps benefits (monetary and intangible) that result from or accrue to jail location (certainly including transportation) which need to be included in the evaluation of options.

Recommendation 4: Expand the jail facility planning options and the sophistication of their evaluation. Revised (and likely lower) projections of need will reduce the scale of both of the options so that the vertical one may not be out of scale with downtown Bellingham and the horizontal one may not require as extensive or expensive a site. Abstract “rules of thumb” and results from other studies1 about costs of construction and operation should be avoided in favor of broader and more specific analyses that take into account likely staffing patterns, types of construction, site acquisition and development costs, and ancillary costs and benefits including transportation and time taken for law enforcement bookings (weighted by frequency from the various agencies), as well as many other important factors. It may be worthwhile to perform a comparative life-cycle cost analysis of options which would provide an excellent contribution to decision making and selection among options and help the County understand the long-term operating costs they would be buying into. (Admin highlight)

In addition, the range and variety of options should be expanded to include at least the following two items. One is the potential continued use (or expansion) of the existing work center, which appears to be a serviceable and appropriate facility. Among the questions that should be explored are these: do the original planning permissions and agreements allow its continued operations; what would be the cost to replace it or the likely value to be obtained from selling it; can it be expanded and to what extent (for added beds or for support services that could support the balance of the jail system such as kitchen, laundry and warehousing, all of which would provide work opportunities for the inmates), etc.? If the existing ±150 beds were retained and support services expanded at this site, it would substantially reduce the scope of the remaining jail bed needs, and the required area of the building and site. This might allow options to be feasible which would not be if they had to accommodate the entire jail program.

Another potential set of options concern the potential uses, if any, of the existing jail. The County is about to spend about $2.5M on upgrades to the structure and security systems. While the building may be currently unsafe and inefficient to operate as a secure jail, are there other correctional, law enforcement, or governmental uses that could reasonably be accommodated? If there are, what would the cost be to renovate and improve the building for these uses?

Possibilities that could be considered include the following:

• temporary holding and staging for inmates who are appearing in court (if transported from a remote jail or if connected to a new, adjacent downtown jail)
• housing of lower custody level inmates who might be participating in work crews or work release to jobs (or education release to schools) in the downtown area, day reporting (if such a program were instituted – since the location is very accessible and served with public transport), or trustee housing for those who would be needed to work in a downtown jail if one were constructed on an adjacent site
• mental health crisis stabilization center (in addition to or replacing the existing triage facility) which requires security and is intensively staffed anyway
• release location for inmates who were otherwise held at a new, remote jail
• offices for the Sheriff (allowing divisions to be co-located; though parking might not be adequate)
• general county offices or other facilities.

Likely, there are other potentially interesting options which should be considered.

Note that the suggested analyses are mainly conducted during the “feasibility” phase of work (after the needs assessment establishes the overall scope).

Observation 5: Jail planning projects are often driven exclusively by projected need – and that is how this project started – sometimes without regard for what can be afforded. This has sometimes led to what can reasonably considered to be disasters – such as jails that are built and then cannot be opened due to high operating costs, or jail operations absorbing so many resources that other equally important services and programs are curtailed.

Recommendation 5: Consider establishing a construction budget for the project, based on what the County can afford to pay or to finance, rather than allowing “needs” to be established independent of what can be afforded. This would encourage both that priorities be set (so that the most important ones are met) and also that cost-effective
means be explored for achieve the priorities. It is my experience that having a project budget is a great help in focusing the minds and attention of participants in the planning process. It also encourages focusing on needs versus wants, eliminating the “wish list”. Too many projects proceed without a real budget and end up with so-called “value engineering” which can result in poor or short-sighted cuts and real damage to a project’s quality. At the same time as construction budgets are established, it is essential that operating costs be projected (as suggested in Recommendation 4).

Observation 6: This will be one of (if not the) largest and most important projects that the County has undertaken. It will be much more likely to succeed under the guidance of a project manager with intelligence, experience with planning, design and construction (if possible of correctional facilities), people/communication skills, and perseverance. Ideally (and with great benefit), this individual would stay with the project for the four or more years it will take until it’s open and operating.

Recommendation 6: Assign or hire a project manager – or a program management company. The County may not have the in-house expertise or staffing available to manage such a project and could consider either hiring such an individual or obtaining the services of a program or construction management firm. Ideally, this person or firm would come on board starting around the time the corrections planner begins work – but no later than the feasibility study phase.

Observation 7: Jails are highly complex buildings and their planning, design and construction are critical to their mission and long-term operations and maintenance. For most jurisdictions, including Whatcom County, a main jail is built only once every generation. Therefore, the expertise available within the jurisdiction is limited.

Recommendation 7: Having available a team with deep experience in jail planning, design and construction is of great benefit to the quality and cost-effectiveness of a jail project, providing input to decisions made at the planning and programming phases. Thus, it is recommended that Whatcom County get the key design and construction players on board early. This may require a decision about how the project will be procured (traditional, design-build, CM at risk, or other method).

Leave a Reply