Ron Stevens has seen plenty of people come and go at the Clatsop County Jail. After 25 years, he's taking his last look at those steel doors.
Today is Stevens' last official day as jail commander, although he'll stay on temporarily with the department as a contract employee until his replacement is brought on board.
"I can't believe it's been 25 years," he said. "It's been exciting, and some days it's been frustrating. I just decided it was time for me to retire and look for a new lifestyle."
After high school, Stevens earned a degree in criminal justice from Clatsop Community College with an eye to becoming a state game officer, but after deciding "that wasn't for me," landed a job at the Bumble Bee cannery, where he worked for 10 years. When the cannery closed, a friend told him that the new county jail was hiring, and just a week after losing his cannery job he joined the sheriff's department as a corrections deputy.
Over the years, he worked up through the ranks to corporal, sergeant and finally lieutenant. He was appointed to the job of jail commander on a temporary basis in 1999, then officially took over the post two years later.
"What's made the job is the other deputies - working hand in hand with a good group of people," he said. "That's what keeps you going."
The new jail was state of the art at the time Stevens joined the staff, but it's not aged well. To fit in more people the department began double-bunking, using portable beds to hold more inmates, and the crowded conditions increase the hazards for offenders and staff. The facility also does not have enough isolation cells to hold violent inmates or those with contagious illnesses.
An updated monitoring system, with cameras in every room and hallway, has helped increase security, but "we have done about as much as we can," Stevens said.
"I wish the public could come and see some of these people when they first come in, how they act out - it would open some eyes," he said.
With 64 beds at the local jail and another 20 rented in Tillamook County, there still aren't enough to hold all the local offenders, who are released according to a scoring system. Some people may serve one or two days of a three-month sentence before they're turned loose, Stevens said.
"That's the most frustrating on my part," he said. "We should not be in the business of releasing people."
Stevens said over the years he's learned to leave the frustrations of his job behind when he goes home at the end of the day, and he makes sure to advise new jail staff to do the same.
"I tell the new people 'you will not last if you take your work home with you,'" he said.
With little space available in the jail for treatment programs, Stevens knows that he and his staff often do little more than recycle people through the system, usually over and over again. Still, he tries to treat each inmate humanely. Some offenders he sees on the outside come up and shake his hand, he said.
"If we treat them fairly, the next time they come back, they respect you," he said.
- Tom Bennett