A sheriff’s office differs from a city police department in many ways. The most important of those is that the sheriff is elected directly by the people and answers directly to the people.
The sheriff is required to oversee the county and provide a wide array of services. Oregon law requires that your sheriff maintain a jail, serve documents of the court, provide security to the courts, execute court orders, maintain warrants from all jurisdictions within the county, and regulate and issue concealed handgun licenses. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office also provides law enforcement services to the unincorporated areas of the county.
Your sheriff must manage these legal responsibilities efficiently and responsibly. Maintaining the jail is their most extensive legally mandated responsibility. While the board of commissioners must fund the expenses of the jail, the sheriff must make responsible choices with your tax dollars.
A Cycle of Increasing Burdens
In 2009, sheriff Rob Gordon wrote, “Due to the rapidly growing population of Washington County it is again necessary to expand jail capacity.” adding, “We will meet these challenges with imagination, innovation and efficiency.”
The current sheriff committed in his 2012 campaign to expand the jail within 5 to 10 years. When he was asked why he did not fulfill this commitment, he wrote, “[Jail] capacity was not significantly short after all. So, we increased our focus on providing a place for excellent training.”
The missing part of that response is that capacity only appeared to improve because of the imagination, innovation, and efficiency that Gordon initiated with our criminal justice partners. He worked to put into place several methods to temporarily lighten the need for space in the jail.
These programs had a time limit to their effectiveness to reduce the need as Washington County’s population continued to grow. Instead of using this period of relief to begin forward-thinking planning for expansion in an integrated and cost-efficient way, the current sheriff abandoned his jail expansion commitment to the voters and turned toward building a training center at a cost of over $20 million dollars.
As you might expect, we have returned to forced releases of thousands of inmates who are not eligible for release. Aggravating the situation, failures to request adequate funding to staff programs have resulted in eliminating some of Gordon’s innovative methods used to reduce the number of jail beds needed.
The impact on county residents multiplies as more offenders are force released. The impact on jail staff multiplies as the jail population becomes disproportionately filled with more dangerous offenders, creating more violent conditions. Staff are forced to work increased mandatory overtime hours and accept dangerous workarounds to complete minimum necessary functions.
This, in turn, causes avoidable loss of well-trained and tenured staff as they make decisions to leave an overburdened job adding to further staff shortages, increased stress and pressures, and higher costs to tax-payers for the recruitment and training of new staff.
These conditions are also harmful to the offenders housed in the jail. Low-level offenders have less opportunity to serve short sentences in programs that would allow them to continue employment and support their families. Staffing shortages have resulted in cuts to services such as visiting hours and access to telephones and video visits weakening family ties and support. Increased time locked inside cells increases anxiety and frustration, further endangering staff. Unfortunately, our jail houses many individuals experiencing mental health crises. The current conditions complicate symptoms for these individuals.
These problems contribute to more recidivism and less rehabilitation thus increasing, not decreasing public safety and tax-payer costs when we find these inmates cycling through the system repeatedly.
This endless cycle of expanding burdens has caused the Washington County Jail operations to suffer a comprehensive breakdown of efficient operations. Acknowledging the need to expand the jail, the current sheriff wrote on his campaign page, “Even though expansion of the current facility is more cost-effective, it will still require substantial funding. It’s almost a certainty that funding will require a voter-approved general obligations bond.”
As a resident, homeowner, and taxpayer in Washington County, I am frustrated that I will be asked for additional funding for a basic required government service that the current sheriff could have, and should have, prioritized as he had committed to doing in his 2012 campaign. Because that did not happen, my opponent is forewarning you that the jail expansion will be an additional tax-payer expense in the coming years.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office needs a leader who understands the legal obligations of the sheriff and how to fulfill these obligations with expertise and fiscal responsibility. The failure of these primary legal obligations puts the entire breadth of sheriff office services at risk.
My extensive expertise in the jail division allows me to intricately understand the legal, practical, and realistic ways in which we can cut forced releases when they compromise the safety of the public.
As your next sheriff, I will restore and prioritize the innovative programs which expand our capacity to execute court-ordered sentences without filling a bed inside the jail.
I will work collaboratively with our criminal justice partners to develop integrated strategies for use when offender populations surge.
Voters have the right to expect campaign promises to be kept and demand accountability from their elected leaders.
|Thank you for reading,|
Red Wortham for Sheriff|
PO Box 1623
Hillsboro, Oregon 97123
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