Forced Early Release: Offenders

My opponent recently published an article explaining why he did not fulfill his 2011 campaign promise to expand the jail and why he is now planning to have a voter obligation bond to expand in the coming years.

Expanding the county jail has been necessary since well before 2011. Our current jail houses 572 adults. In the mid-2000’s we outgrew our capacity and were forced to early release several thousand
inmates who were not eligible for a release otherwise.

We collaborated with our public safety partners to implement and expand early case resolution, work release, and home detention programs that allowed us to temporarily relieve the demand for more beds. As a result, our forced early release numbers went down.

Forced Early Release Trend
Forced Early Release Trend

These strategies, however, were band-aid solutions that could only provide temporary relief and were unable to keep up with the continual growth of the county and its needs. The number of forced early releases began to creep up again.

We implemented more desperate measures—granting additional time off sentences and moving releases up a couple of days. This allowed us to avoid some forced early releases despite our continually expanding demand for more jail beds but did not stop the creep.

Forced Early Release: Drugs by School
Forced Early Release: Drugs by School

The fact that we did not continue to force release hundreds of offenders after my opponent’s original campaign promise was not an indicator that the needs had changed or that expansion was no longer needed. It was simply that we had pulled out all the stops and exhausted every stopgap measure we had for managing the problem in the short-term.

Instead of expanding our jail capacity, in 2015 we requested and received the money to build a $20 million training center which we don’t have the funds to complete as planned or to properly staff. The training center does not save us the money, resources, or time to match the cost to build and operate it. Other agencies have training centers in the tri-county area, and the state has a training center available for our staff. Additionally, much of our training is specialized and cannot be completed in our training center, decreasing its usefulness.

Forced Early Release Recent Week
Forced Early Release Recent Week

We presently find ourselves force early releasing hundreds, even thousands of inmates annually. We released nearly 2,000 offenders last year. We’re projected to do better this year after initiating a new stopgap strategy: notifying other counties who arrest offenders on our warrants to release them rather than transport them back to us if they are eligible for pre-trial release.

Forced Early Release: Repeat Failure to Appear
Forced Early Release: Repeat Failure to Appear

We have exhausted every resource and strategy to mitigate our exponentially growing demand for more jail beds so we can expect that number to begin to quickly increase the safety of Washington County residents.

We are housing only the most serious offenders in the jail and are paying three-fold the cost of apprehending and processing each force released offender because they frequently fail to appear in court—sometimes three or more times in the same case.

Forced Early Release: Public Safety Compromised
Forced Early Release: Public Safety Compromised

To add to this issue there are other growing problems. A staffing crisis in the jail has increased the pressure.

To gain needed staff we have reduced and discontinued programs that provide alternative sentencing—programs designed to lessen the demand for beds. A year and a half ago, we cut our ankle bracelet program from about 25 in custody to 1-3 in custody at any given moment. This year, we stopped the Work Weekends Instead of Jail program.

Forced Early Release: Repeat Failure to Appear
Forced Early Release: Repeat Failure to Appear

Several months ago, we were forced to close a housing unit which reduced the jail capacity to 512, adding yet more pressure to our overburdened system.

The public was told we closed the housing unit to complete maintenance. In the spirit of transparency, I’d like to state that is not true.

We met and decided we had no choice but to close the jail housing unit as a measure to address emergency level staffing shortages. We did take advantage of the now vacant unit to complete long-term maintenance needs, but much of the maintenance being done does not require inmates be absent during the process.

The staffing crisis has led to increased overtime costs then, in turn, stress and health issues of staff who are forced to work long mandatory overtime hours. This increases problems retaining staff and leads to increased costs of recruiting and training new deputies and employees. Each problem feeds the other problems, creating a web of catch-22 effects.

As the leader of a large law enforcement agency, your Sheriff must plan and strategize well before we reach our limits and are no longer able to adequately provide the services you pay for, expect, and deserve! And, to do so in a responsibly cost-effective manner.

We must work collaboratively with our public safety partners to address jail population issues and overcrowding. We have been doing this for decades and will continue to do so but, our resources and their effectiveness have limits which we have, for the most part, reached.

As your next Sheriff, I am deeply disappointed that our county will have to consider yet another obligation bond—this time to address the jail expansion originally promised by the current Sheriff in 2011.

I commit to going over the budget line-by-line, finding budget savings by restructuring staffing and vehicle assignments, utilizing our civilian experts for the jobs for which they were hired.

I also commit to preventing hostile workplace conditions which have led to employee lawsuits and settlements and contribute heavily to our staff shortages.

We will be facing a significant cost burden in the coming several years, and we must reset our priorities and prepare our service divisions to meet the county’s needs despite likely staffing growth freezes. I am evaluating the coming costs of the exponential growth of the county, fulfilling the new paid family leave law, and the impending recession.

My top budget priority is service to the public which includes a jail adequate to house offenders who are not authorized for release by the courts, staffing which meets the levy obligations we’ve committed to the voters, and staffing which ensures our citizens and law enforcement staff are safe here in Washington County.

Transparent government tells you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!

Thank you for reading,
Red Wortham
Red Wortham Red Wortham for Sheriff
PO Box 1623
Hillsboro, Oregon 97123
(503) 987-0220
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