Thursday, March 1, 2007

Why Jails work

There has been much discussion - too much behind closed doors - about issues surounding the jail and the "supervisory authority," the legal entity to whom defendants who are NOT sent to prison are remanded when one of our three judges says "I sentence you to XX days in the supervisory authority."

In Clatsop County the supervisory authority is jointly shared by the Sheriff and the Community Corrections (Probation) Department. This was a decision of the Board of County Commissioners about 10 years ago when Oregon law changed. The theory was that this would allow each county to craft its own program for inmates sentenced to a year or less.
Keep in mind that in Oregon 84% of all sentenced felons do NOT go to prison, thet are either in jail or on probation, in either event in the care of the "supervisory authority," and that about 75% of all convictions are for misdemeanors - crimes like DUII and Assault for which the maximum sentence is one year in jail or less.

The State of Oregon pays each county money based on a formula tied to the number of felony probationers. They also send the county a sizeable sum for those people sentenced to prison, but for terms of 12 months or less. As a result of this funding the county is reimbursed by the state only for felony cases. However the vast majority of crime and sentenced prisoners are not felons. When a Clatsop County hands down a "jail" sentence they are doing it because the judge beleives that is the most appropraite way to sanction misconduct, deter future bad behavior, and offer those criminals who want help a way out of the conduct that keeps landing them back in jail. During the recent campaign for Circuit Judge one - unsuccessful - candidate kept saying there were people in jail who shouldn't be there. I repeatedly asked him to name even one such inmate and he was unable to do so. The reason is that our judges are handing down sensible sentences restricted by the resources available and a complicated set of rules called sentencing guidelines.

The jail is capped, by order of the County Commission to prevent lawsuits from inmates at 60 beds. The county also rents ten beds from Tillamook County and there are up to 30 beds available at the Transition Center. The Transition Center was oriiginally supposed to be paid for by a state grant called a certificate of participation. As the years went by the cost went up and the county used Timber Revenues to build the existing center which also houses the office of Community Correction(Probation).
There are no bars or even locks on the doors because the Center was originally intended to ensure that it's "residents" could receive treatment through the Oregon Health Plan (OHP) The OHP would NOT pay for treatment if someone was in a secure lockdown. Unfortunately the state changed the rules and now severely limits who can be on OHP.

The Transition Center was designed to hold that class of inmates who needs more supervision that can be provided by a probation officer monitoring their job and house but not ones so dangerous that need to be locked up in a jail.

Keep in mind that while it has a large budget the budget for Community Corrections is ALL state money and since they get money only for felony offenders there is relatively little supervision of misdemeanor offenders.

But misdemeanors, DUII, most domestic assault make up the MAJORITY of convicted offenders.

There has been much chest pounding about the release of a man sentenced to 30 days for violating his probation for an original crime of Failing to Register as a Sex Offender.

But that release is small potatoes compared to what has been happening for the last several years. It is commonplace for a six-time DUII offender to get 6 months and serve a fraction of that or more regularly a felony offender who repeatedly violated probation so his probation is revoked and he is given 180 days (the maximum). All too often that person is released from jail because of overcrowding and IF he is on probation is on such a low level of supervision that for all intents and purposes he's walking free.

To blame the Sheriff is just pure politics. The system hasn't been working for years and a number of us who work in the system have been trying to get the people with the power to do something to pay attention to a broken process, and that doersn't mean which person is released on matrix.

If Judge Nelson's Drug Court works it is in large part because the drug offender in that program know that if they really screw up the Judge can send them to jail for a short stay (usually 2 to 5 days).

When a judge has a repeat wife beater in front of him or her and wants to make sure he goes to treatment and quits whaling on his spouse it is the THREAT of jail that often makes him comply.

As the District Attorney I don't get frequent flyer miles for the number of people in jail or prison. I have all the customers I need. In fact if I want more business then keep releasing these criminals early because they do re-offend, at an alarming rate.

So let's quit the useless posturing and finger pointing, suck it up and read some of those many studies the County has commissioned or the Clatsop County Grand Jury's investigation (available at the county website) and recognize that we need to do SOMETHING and soon.

Sheriff Bergin has offered a sensible way to use the existing jail, spend well less than $10 million. Time to get to work and stop the hand wringing!