Cost of Justice

On an average day at the Skagit County Jail, corrections officers struggle to find room for the estimated 200 inmates in a building meant to house 83.

The close proximity causes tempers to flare; some inmates sleep on the floor just feet from toilets that occasionally overflow.

But the challenges of an overcrowded jail reach deeper than the jail cells. They touch everyone from the attorneys representing their clients and the corrections officers supervising the inmates, to the judges and citizens on the street, who may be at risk from criminals who should be in jail but aren’t — there’s no room.

While most agree it’s time for a new jail, questions remain about much it would cost, who will pay for it, and how it would be staffed.

In a five-part series, the Skagit Valley Herald and goskagit.com will examine the jail overcrowding through interviews with attorneys, judges, law enforcement, corrections officers, inmates and city and county officials, and interactive graphics, photo galleries, videos and more.

MOUNT VERNON — Hunched over a desk in a dimly lit office, District Court Judge David Svaren flipped through files and studied rap sheets.

Sedro-Woolley Police Lt. Lin Tucker was called to a residential neighborhood to check out a suspicious vehicle believed to be involved in drug activity.

Between the flight paths of Sea-Tac Airport’s first and third runways is the first jail of its kind in the state.

MOUNT VERNON — Just 16 inmates had to be moved from the 40-bed jail above Skagit County Superior Court to what was in 1984 a state-of-the-art new jail.


A Sense of Place

Discover why so many call our area home.

GUEMES ISLAND — In the winter months, this small rural island at the edge of Skagit County empties of snow birds and bicycle tourists and is left to the locals.

Take a drive down Burlington Boulevard, with its bumper-to-bumper weekend traffic and door-to-door strip malls, and it’s hard to imagine the Burlington of 40 years ago.

Under a cold, gray sky in March, Concrete Town Councilman Jack Mears wandered among the almost 25 hangars scattered across the Concrete Airport.

HAMILTON — Tim Bates leaned against the white latticed fence that lines the Hamilton Cafe and Store’s porch on one of the few warm summer days this August.

On a Wednesday evening this month — one of those blissful summer evenings where the sun lingers for hours at the horizon — every corner of Cap Sante Marina seemed to buzz with activity.

The hope of a better life and some land for dairy cows brought Ron Spoelster’s family to Bow half a century ago.

BAY VIEW — Growing up here in the ’70s, Dirk Rozema remembers a different perception of the bay that cozies up to this small, almost 130-year-old town.

On one of the first sunny mornings in weeks in Mount Vernon, barber Fred Lee opened the door of his shop and greeted the first customer.