2015 Stop Punishing Taxpayers, Start Rebuilding Community

This booklet for Whatcom County Voters was co-authored by Joy with Irene Morgan, the Founder of the Restorative Community Coalition.  We teamed up to research and produce this is visionary approach to do a social-economic-civic turnaround for the voters of Whatcom County – to provide choices.   The research was done by members of the Restorative Community Coalition to show the community how it is possible to reverse our economic tax addiction to jails as a negative economic driver of our local economy.

The Coalition has found that the jail industrial complex is literally traumatizing and harming the poor and people who have experienced misfortune in our community – at their point of vulnerability – in a crisis.  One ripple effect is how the entire family is then thrown into poverty under investigation.  Then, the impacts ripple out to  marginalizing our middle class and small businesses while expanding the co-dependence of the government expansion.  Then it needs more taxes to build facilities, destroying the social fabric while funding the development of the School to Prison pipeline.

This booklet was written after Joy had done 5 years of research into the privateering business model, and as Joy Gilfilen was a candidate for Whatcom County Executive.  She found that the denial factor was high, and she needed to show the public that there were options to not build a massive expanded regional jail project in Whatcom County.  We could rebuild our safety net, fix our mental health programs, provide housing programs – all at a fraction of the cost of arresting, jailing, traumatizing and creating homelessness, joblessness, and complex poverty and mental health systems.

Appreciating Society Chart – Early Hypothesis from 2010

This chart is about the economic physics of reversing mass incarceration.  It acknowledges that our community is operating with a depreciating economic model driven by jailing, and traumatizing people on the left column.  On the right column it show how we can reverse the costs and outcomes to the taxpayers if we change what we do in our community at the point of an arrest.  When we do an interception, we can completely change outcomes for many people, and build an “APPRECIATING” society business model for the community.  This Appreciating Society Chart was produced by Joy Gilfilen after listening to over 24 speakers and 84 people discuss the problems we had in our County – people who attended the Community Visionaries Opportunities Conference in Bellingham, WA in 2010.

The Impacts of an Arrest Cause Mental Health Symptoms within Hours

JoyTalk #2 BLINDSPOTS – PreConceptions Revealed by the Jail Trauma Study

Talking about a key unexpected finding – that people sustain extreme shock and trauma in the first 24-72 hours after an incident happens that leads to an arrest and jailing.  This is way before they get a defense attorney. This is the key to reducing harm caused after a 911 call leads to an arrest. Why?  People reported similar extreme symptoms that are listed in a Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder definition. And most did not have these kinds of extreme conditions prior to the arrest and jailing.

2020 – Invest in People 1st – this is the way we can do Social Change.  Developing a restorative economics model for community business investment is a way to intercept and turn around the mass incarceration industry’s traumatizing and and tax addictive spiral of accelerating loss.  The United States leads the world in incarceration.  We are arresting and jailing over 12 million people annually.  By comparison, only 630,000 people annually are entering prisons. That means that most people arrested are non-violent according to statistics compiled by the Vera Institute of Justice and validated by other studies.

Whether or not these people are guilty, they are treated like criminals at the point of an arrest.  This causes a split brain kind of  experience by the total  disassociation from freedom and everything people believe about being safe and “innocence until proven guilty” in the US.  This is so terrifying, disorienting and traumatizing it creates deep distress, and sparks mental illness symptoms in people.

It has become routine to arrest people from 911 calls, rather than striving to divert people to mental health facilities, housing alternatives, recovery and rehabilitation programs.  When we stop the automotic arrest cycles and build the intervention systems, we can start investing in emotional trauma recovery at the point of 1st contact.  We can stop the millions of people who end up homeless, in poverty, in mental health situations.  Yes.  With civic leadership and commitment, we can reverse the trends, and transform the results.

Whatcom County Jail Trauma Research Study

After doing deep research into the issue, I have found that “an arrest creates a traumatic experience for people – and it is traumatic enough to cause mental illness symptoms – even if people do walk away and say, “I’m o.k.”  Most people do that because it is so shocking to realize what happens inside the arrest and jail process that people can’t even talk about it.  It is like they have a split reality experience, and they cannot comprehend what just happened.  So they avoid talking about it.  It is like a psychic shock that is so mind-bending that people want to pretend it didn’t happen.  But they can’t.”

I did 79 in-depth interviews with 79 people who have been impacted by an arrest in Whatcom County.  Of the 79, fifty-three (53) were arrested and went through the jail, court and justice system process directly.  Twenty-six (26) were family, friends or colleagues who were trying to help them through the situation.  After listening to all their stories, and mapping them out, looking for common denominators, tracking the biggest issues…here is my summation.  I did two different charts each showing different impacts, and each showing how the other side is impacted.


I talked with the person who got arrested and went through the jailing and justice system and all they way through arrest and the aftershocks on them and their families.  I tracked it out and then diagrammed it into this early process, for it is here where I found the most shocking and hidden impacts – that are not typically talked about in the discussion about jail or justice system reform.  It is at the beginning of a 911 call, through the incident, the arresting, the booking, then the jailing prior to 1st Appearance in Court where the shock causes seismic damage to the body, the mind, and the spirit of the person – from constant trauma.  I have graphed it out in two phases to show the emotional impacts and symptoms that people experience.

  • Radicalized Acute Distress Under Duress (RADD) is what happens at the original shock point – at the incident, the pre-arrest period before they are handcuffed, then taken and jailed.  They have a real tough time talking about all this, for the trauma is so severe they seem to try to bury it.  To talk about it is in itself re-traumatizing to them.
  • Repetitive Accelerating Trauma (RAT) impacts accumulated after booking, jailing and before they go into the court for 1st appearance (When they find out what the Prosecutor is charging them with, and when they get assigned a Public Defender in the courtroom, and have to make their first plea.  This is sometimes hours, but more normally happens in a 24-72 hour window when they are held in captivity before they get anyone to talk to about their defense.


As these intense interviews started building up, I started interviewing the family, friends, employers, police, emergency responders – even hospital staff and public defenders and justice system employees about what they observed, experienced and felt from helping the persons, or their families deal with the aftershocks.  The interviews yielded a whole other level of awareness and insights that typically have not been talked about in most writings about reform.  And the pre-assumption by those people who work in the system in court, in the administration, or in behavioral health or recovery is that they just  assume that everyone who gets arrested is already emotionally messed up, mentally ill, or addicted – or “must have done something wrong, or you wouldn’t have been arrested in the first place.”

There is a automatic presumption of guilt and fault by the system against the person arrested that leaves no room for the possibility that the person is innocent, that the person may not have been mentally ill in the first place.

It was unexpected to realize that no-one, including me, the researcher that the stress of the arrest distresses the mental health and stability of everyone who goes through the system…and it was likely that the impacts of the loss of freedom, the acute shock of being arrested, were the cause of the mental distress symptoms seen in people even at 1st arraignment and certainly post court.  Our rise in mental illness issues can most likely be traced back to a traumatizing situation that happened with a crisis, an arrest and the impacts on the psyche.

I was taken aback to truly realize that most people arrested had no criminal intent that sparked the arrest.  It was the circumstances areound a crisis that led to an incident, that sparked an arrest and accusation that the person broke a law, and that starts the sequence of distress that compounds.  Many of those arrested did not seem to have had  mental illness symptoms pre-incident.  This was shocking and it led me to do another level of questioning for both those arrested and for all their support team members.  Here is another chart summarizing what I found.


After doing all this research and comparing information gleaned, I went online to find out if there were any diagnoses of mental health symptoms that matched my findings.  I found the Complex Post Traumatic Distress symptoms listed in the World Health Organizations list the most comparable.  I found symptoms from severe head trauma caused by split brians or broken brains to be similar as well.   Nothing else fit the broad range of symptoms described and the depth of impact.  The only ones that seemed to fit the plethora of symptoms were those that were exhibited by people who had experienced deep and sudden shock and betrayal by a protector or who been held hostage or captive by a “friendly”.  People who were taken prisoner in a friendly land, or were held hostage by a cult, or a person taken captive and held as prey to their protector.

My bottomline conclusion:  Just a call to 911 can trigger an arrest and jailing because of the way that the system of technology, protectionism and fear of liability works today.  The presumption of innocence is lost and superceded by the likelihood that a law was broken, and inevitably this leads to an arrest – whether or not anyone intended to commit any crime of violate any law.  The pre-assumption of guilt is made at the 911 call – and once that call is made, it triggers the system to step in and protect the government and all the people who run the legal system.

What is not shown on this chart, is the high costs that any family incurs from the point of the arrest ($10,000 to $30,000 is fairly standard) or it can escalate rapidly, throwing the family into immediate poverty as well as into RADD-RAT escalating conditions.

A Study of the Emotional Impacts of an Arrest on CPTSD


This podcast is the 1st in a series about what really happens to people who get arrested. I did the research as President of the Restorative Community Coalition.  I had been striving to figure out why the top three law enforcement officials in our County kept pushing the taxpayers to pass a massive tax to build an even more massive jail when crime rates had been dropping dramatically.  It made no logical sense.  More on this in another post.

Regarding the ethnographic research study: I decided to interview people (53) who who had been arrested and went through the Whatcom County Jail and Justice System from beginning to end. Some were still dealing with it. These were people I had helped through court navigation, or had worked with in our educational sessions, or had coached about their situation.  I wanted to know in deeper depth what really happened to them from the beginning to the end – so that we could learn what was the matter with the system from the bottoms up.

Everybody else was seeing “system reform” from the top down – and it wasn’t working.  How does it look from the bottom of the barrel?

So this podcast talks about the people I interviewed and how I did the study.  These first interviews gave me pause, and caused me to interview another 26 who were friends, family, employers, criminal defense attorneys. There were employees of the system – police, defenders, prosecutors, clerks and other staff, jailers, emergency responders, hospital and mental health providers, and investigative writers. There were people of diverse demographics, education and financial class.

Of the 79 people, all were deeply concerned about the system. Nobody really wanted to go into the emotional heavy lifting – but each was willing to do it for the purpose of hoping they could help fix it. These were not easy conversations – for the subject is emotionally traumatizing to talk about for all of us.

  • I found out that it is deeply disturbing to the soul. So nice people want to avoid the conversation.
  • It is distasteful.  It is cruel and ugly.  It is unspeakable in many ways.
  • It boggles the mind that we are doing this in the 21st century when we have other options.
  • I found out that people who get arrested go through dramatic arrest shock and jail trauma that causes deep mental, physical and emotional distress – people cannot comprehend what just happened to them.
  • And it happens before they ever even get to 1st Appearance. Before they meet any Public Defender, before bail. There is no safety zone at all.But I get ahead of myself…this 1st podcast is simply to introduce why I did the work. Below is the chart that emerged afterwards.

    In future podcasts, I will explain more…

Focusing on Healing Trauma, Inspiring Recovery, Education

RECLAIM LIVES is a short public relations video produced for the Restorative Community Coalition.  Our goal was to encapsulate what the Coalition does for the community in common terms.  It shows especially why restorative justice and reentry solutions must include many different levels of recovery services.

This video was produced in tandem with some most extraordinary students from Western Washington University and with the help of volunteers at the Restorative Community Coalition.


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