On Wednesday, Oct. 3, Chief Deputy Paul Williams of the Oregon State Police gave a presentation to the Gearhart City Council regarding Ballot Measure 4-195, better known as the Clatsop County Jail Bond. The proposed project is developing a new 148-bed county jail at the former Oregon Youth Authority juvenile facility, increasing capacity from the 60 beds available in the existing Astoria jail, reducing early releases of offenders, and providing separate space to hold inmates with behavioral issues and contagious illnesses. The project would utilize the existing youth facility for staff offices, intake space, food service and 20 inmate beds, while placing 128 beds in a new adjoining section with a more efficient, and safer, layout. And, to help with the management and physical and mental health of the inmates, there would also be an indoor gym.
Here are a few facts to chew on.
In 1976 a $2.1 million bond was floated to build a 76 bed jail. That project was scaled back to build a 29-bed jail, which was eventually erected and opened for business in 1980. By 1983, deputies were already employing double bunking and the existing gym and laundry areas were commandeered to be used as dorms. Budgetary implementations in 1986 reduced the facility to 22 beds. In 2002, a bond to replace the building failed. In 2004 a grand jury investigation recommended the county build a new jail. More studies showed a need to increase staffing to meet the jail’s most basic needs.
According to Chief Deputy Williams, there are 80 inmates or people awaiting sentencing in the jail on any given day. The population is officially capped at 60. This means each month, 50 or more offenders are released before the end of their sentence, or while awaiting trial. These offenders most typically have been arrested and charged with burglary, domestic abuse, and assault. The chief deputy said he loses sleep some nights hoping they haven’t released back on to the streets a person likely to hurt someone.
“On a daily basis, we are picking and choosing,” Williams said.
The construction costs for the proposed project are $23.8 million, to be financed by a $20 million, 20-year bond. It’s estimated the actual cost to homeowners would be about $53 a year for a $250,000 property. $3.8 million would come from surplus state timber revenue. Operating costs are figured at about $5.2 million a year, resulting in a $685,000 net increase to the annual sheriff’s office corrections budget. A proposed countywide room tax to raise $420,000 a year would cover a portion of the increase. Some of the money, it was unofficially proposed at the council meeting, in future could come from marijuana tax.
Passing of the measure — and in two years when the work would be completed — a new jail means convicted offenders would serve their full sentences. Sanctions on parole and probation violations cases could be much better implemented. Sick inmates, whether they have the flu or are emotionally disturbed, could be kept separated from the rest of the population, resulting in a safer environment for inmates and staff.
Perhaps most importantly, limited options for holding or imposing sentences on defendants charged with rape, sex abuse, sodomy, domestic violence, and assault with a dangerous or deadly weapon would change, meaning that fewer of these offenders would be early turned back out on to the streets.
The county took over ownership of the Oregon Youth Authority property on Oct. 1. The time for change is ripe.
Williams urged the councilors and the public to take a tour of the present jail.
Meanwhile the sheriff’s office will continue to utilize alternative programs like drug court, designed to help people break the cycle of substance abuse and other behaviors known to contribute to criminal activity. Due to the capacity of the current facility, police say options are limited to sanction program participants should they fail to abide by the program’s condition. The sheriff’s office has also instituted an inmate work crew program, electronic monitoring (house arrest) and day reporting as jail alternatives.