As your elected sheriff of Clatsop County, I have always tried to do what is right for the majority of the people. This includes everyone, no matter what walk of life they may come from.
I can tell you all kinds of stories related to having an inadequate jail and the lack of accountability. We have more than 1,500 outstanding warrants. I can tell you people are released on a daily basis who consistently get out just hours or days after being arrested, then commit additional crimes at every level from shoplifting to domestic violence to murder.
I can tell you the vulnerable, mentally ill and those with drug dependencies default to the jail, where we do our best to take care of them — however, again due to lack of space, programs or proper treatment, real help is never fulfilled.
I can tell you the current jail was originally built for 29 inmates. It was overcrowded the day it opened almost 40 years ago in 1980.
Every study (four) over the last 20 years has stated we need a minimum of 140 beds with room for future expansion. We have that opportunity now with the closing of the Oregon Youth Authority juvenile prison in Warrenton that was run by the state. It is in a good location away from neighborhoods and close to the current sheriff’s office. We would be repurposing an old building into a modern facility able to meet the needs associated with keeping our community safe.
This building would not only create accountability for the incarcerated, but would also create a safer environment for mentally ill inmates. Most of them should not be there in the first place, but we often have many. It would also provide a better working environment for corrections deputies, mental health workers, drug and alcohol counselors, lawyers, doctors, nurses and clergy, all of whom work within the walls helping to create a place of rehabilitation and again accountability.
Some people say I want a remodeled jail because of my support of Measure 105, which would repeal the state sanctuary law. They say I want to lock up all illegal immigrants. That is the furthest thing from the truth. It just doesn’t happen like that. There are still many laws in place to protect everyone, no matter where they come from or what they believe. I have dedicated my life to protecting rights and upholding the law. I will continue to do so as long as I serve as your sheriff.
However, without the accountability of incarceration — coupled with treatment and compassion — we are just spinning our wheels and not helping anyone to become productive, sober or mentally balanced to integrate back into society.
Think what you may about me, but know I have spent 33 years serving this community and doing my best to maintain the integrity of the law. Clatsop County is in dire need of a jail facility that will work with our criminal justice partners such as the courts, mental health and the previously mentioned numerous other entities.
Clatsop County is a beautiful place to live and a beautiful place to visit. If you truly want our community to be a safer place through accountability and compassion, please vote “yes” on Measure 4-195 to fix our current situation.
Tom Bergin is sheriff of Clatsop County.