Alternatives to Incarceration

​The Bellingham City Council supports alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders. Jail should not be used as a fallback because of insufficient mental health and substance use treatment. Improving procedures in the criminal justice system also contributes to incarceration reduction. The City of Bellingham has taken the lead in piloting jail alternatives such as electronic home monitoring and participates in countywide efforts to reduce the jail population.

Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force

The City Council is helping to develop reforms through involvement in Whatcom County’s Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force (IPRTF), which is identifying new programs or activities to reduce the jail population — such as improved delivery of local mental health and substance abuse treatment services, and reduction in inappropriate use of the emergency room, 911, and the jail. The City supports existing incarceration alternatives such as Drug Court and a Mental Health Court and other reforms that reduce the time that people are held pre-trial.


A Ground Level Response and Coordinated Engagement (GRACE) program connects people who are frequent users of emergency and healthcare services, and who have frequent contact with law enforcement, to appropriate services. A Countywide Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program creates an alternate pathway to services instead of jail for low-level crimes. See the following links for more information.

Alternative Response Team (ART)

Bellingham is working with Whatcom County to pilot an Alternative Response Team (ART) for emergency calls involving mental health and substance use situations. ART is a collaborative approach between law enforcement, emergency medical response, human services, and other community agencies. ART will be comprised of teams of two-person units — a mental health specialist and a registered nurse.

Community Paramedic

The Community Paramedic Program responds to individuals who have frequent contact with the 911 system but whose issues and problems can be better managed or addressed in other ways. The program has substantially reduced the number of 911 calls made by participants in the program while resulting in better outcomes.

Specialty Courts

A series of specialty courts in Whatcom County connect individuals to services and requires participation in court programming as an alternative to jail.

City of Bellingham Incarceration Reduction Programs

The City of Bellingham has developed an array of programs for individuals charged with serious misdemeanors who might otherwise end up in the County jail.