From the Office of the Sheriff
Sheriff Dennis L. Dotson
For Immediate Release
Date: Aug 8, 2008
The Revolving Jail Door
Sheriff Dennis Dotson reports that the “revolving door” at the Lincoln County Jail has actually stopped spinning. From May through July of this year, inmates released from the Lincoln County Jail are reported to have served their entire sentences. “That time frame would have been extended another month had we not released a few inmates in April due to overcrowding,” stated Sheriff Dotson. “However, even these inmates were only a few days from completing their entire sentences,” added Dotson.
Sheriff Dotson had heard from police officers of the “revolving door” at the 28-bed jail shortly after his arrival to Lincoln County in 1987 and heard their complaints within a year after the new jail was opened in 1992. “Police officers were complaining that some of the people they were lodging were almost beating them out the jail door.” “Over the years it was not a matter of whether or not there was a ‘revolving door’, it was how fast it is spinning,” stated Dotson.
When Sheriff Dotson was appointed as Lincoln County’s Sheriff and assumed office on August 1, 2003, one of the many challenges facing him was management of the Lincoln County Jail. The facility was designed with 28 beds for female inmates, 93 beds for male inmates, 24 beds for male work-release inmates, and 25 beds for housing minimum security male inmates for a total of 170 beds.
In 1992, the jail was funded to utilize only 99 of those beds and the manner in which inmates were housed changed from the intended design. The female inmate population was moved to the third floor and limited to 13 beds. The female housing unit, or pod, which provided 28 beds, was mothballed. A work-release program was not created so the work-release and the minimum security pods were mothballed as well. That left 86 beds to house male inmates.
In 2000, a contract was negotiated with Benton County to house 20 of their male inmates. The revenue from that contract funded five additional corrections deputy positions. The work-release and minimum security pods were opened which made 29 male inmate beds available for Lincoln County offenders. In a few short years it was learned that all of the new deputy positions could not be successfully filled and the overtime to staff the two pods was staggering.
“We needed to act to ensure the safety of our deputies, the wellness of our inmates, and the security of the facility,” stated Sheriff Dotson. Dotson ordered the closure of the two pods and transferred 28 of the inmates to the mothballed female pod. This resulted in the release of 21 inmates. “We didn’t want to release these inmates, but we were burning out our deputies with the overtime and stress,” said Sheriff Dotson.
This plan worked until May 2005 when this pod was closed due the loss of five corrections deputy positions. This was the result of an arbitrated salary/benefit settlement. Twenty-eight more inmates were released reducing the jail population to 15 females and 86 males for a total of 101 inmates. This release further compounded the problems that police officers, prosecutors, and judges were dealing with in addition to sending a clear message that offenders were not being properly held accountable for their crimes.
Sheriff Dotson is of the opinion that the lack of space for inmates evolved over many years. This was the result of many different factors ranging from personal attitudes to the lack of programs and providing transitioning services for inmates. Dotson believes that the lack of funding to provide proper services for our mentally ill population is also a significant factor to jail overcrowding in Lincoln County. “The jail is seen by many as the place where all offenders need to go to be punished.” “This just isn’t feasible any longer due to spiraling costs and today there are other more effective alternatives to jail for some offenders.” “We knew we had to work on these opinions and perceptions and that these challenges will require time to overcome,” stated Dotson.
Sheriff Dotson knew that something had to be done to increase the efficiency of the jail without increasing the cost. Dotson admits he didn’t have any idea of how this was going to be accomplished, but soon developed confidence that the people who worked in the jail would create ideas. “Once our supervisors and deputies were encouraged to think about what could be done to improve the operation and that their ideas would receive serious consideration, the ideas started to flow,” stated Dotson.
The first idea to be implemented was presented to Sheriff Dotson in early 2005. The plan involved the elimination of 10 correction technician positions in the jail. These positions were responsible for processing the booking and release of inmates in addition to the operation of the jail’s central control area.
On July 1, 2005, the funding for these positions was transferred to create positions for three corrections deputies, two patrol deputies, one records technician, one administrative lieutenant, and two police cars. The duties of the corrections technicians were assumed by the corrections deputies.
The second reorganization was implemented on July 1, 2006 and involved the elimination of three jail sergeant positions. The funding for these three positions was transferred to fund four of the five corrections deputy positions eliminated in May 2005. The Board of Commissioners was extremely supportive through these efforts and agreed to fund a fifth corrections deputy position to safely open the pod to hold 28 more male inmates. Available beds increased from 101 to 129 from that effort alone.
The third idea to be implemented involved transferring the female inmates back to the pod designed for that population. This was accomplished after six additional beds were installed in that pod in August 2006. The numbers changed again with 34 beds available for female inmates and 107 beds available for male inmates for a total of 141 beds. In 2006, the agreement with Benton County was modified to accept female inmates in lieu of male inmates. This further increased the jail’s capacity to hold male offenders from Lincoln County.
In April 2007, a Blue Ribbon Committee (BRC) was convened by Sheriff Dotson to review the utilization and purpose of the Lincoln County Jail. The courts, District Attorney’s Office, Board of Commissioners, Mental Health, Parole & Probation, local law enforcement, city government, Juvenile Department, defense attorney’s bar, citizens, media, and the Sheriff’s Office were represented on the BRC. The group learned the history of the jail, its utilization by police, parole & probation and the courts, and the challenges in managing a facility where use outpaces capacity.
Many ideas were discussed and researched and the monthly meetings proved valuable as beneficial changes in the utilization of the jail by police, parole & probation, and the courts occurred. Alternatives to incarceration that were already being utilized were expanded, new concepts introduced, and sentencing practices from judges modified to better serve the courts and the citizens of the county. “Our citizens should be proud of their judges in addition to the elected officials and others who serve on the BRC.” “It’s largely due to their participation and cooperation that so much progress has resulted in the utilization of the jail and management of our offender population,” stated Sheriff Dotson.
In November 2007 a three-deputy team from the jail toured 15 jails in Oregon to review their operations. Jails of all sizes were visited and their staff interviewed. The team prepared a proposal for Sheriff Dotson and the plan was approved.
In February 2008, the fourth and most significant plan impacting the capacity of the jail was implemented. Additional beds were installed increasing the male inmate capacity from 107 to 138 and the female capacity was adjusted to 23 beds. For nearly 18 months the female population remained fairly static at 23 per day. Eight beds were installed in the pod used for females prior to August 2006 and that population was moved.
The number of beds available in the jail changed once again, but this time increased from 107 to 138 male beds bringing the total available bed count to 161. In 2003 when Sheriff Dotson arrived, there were 135 male and 15 female beds for a total of 150. Today there are 138 male and 23 female beds for a total of 161 beds with five fewer positions funded for the jail. Dotson reports that in today’s dollars that’s a $450,000 yearly decrease in personnel costs to operate the Lincoln County Jail.
Sheriff Dotson emphasized that another significant point of these changes and progress is that inmates are being housed in pods that were designed to hold them. The original work-release and minimum security pods were designed and built without locks on the cell doors. Sheetrock rather than concrete blocks serve as walls and there are no lavatory fixtures in the cells. Inmates were free to leave their cells at their discretion and required to use a common restroom area. This design was not intended for medium security inmates and required constant deputy supervision with no way to secure inmates during a cell-check or disturbance. Even with constant supervision, inmates engaged in fights and other unacceptable behavior.
The minimum security pod utilized today was designed and built with lavatory fixtures, locks on cell doors that can be secured by the deputy at the touch of a screen, and walls are constructed of concrete blocks. This pod houses the inmates who work in the kitchen, clean the jail, and participate in inmate work crews around the county. Sheriff Dotson reports that as soon as some of the vacant deputy positions are filled, a work-release program will be implemented from this pod.
Sheriff Dotson stresses that the safety of the deputies, wellness of the inmates, and security of the facility have been improved. The efforts of the courts, parole and probation, and police officers have also resulted in improved utilization of the jail and management of this county’s inmate population.
Dotson warned that while this is occurring at the present time, the future holds challenges for Lincoln County. “What we are experiencing may only be an anomaly and it may not last long unless our partners continue to work together to efficiently manage this county’s offender population.” “Programs to assist inmates to better transition back into the community are imperative to a successful offender management plan,” stated Dotson.
Sheriff Dotson reminds citizens that this is their jail and that they are invited to tour the facility for a first-hand look of the operation. For more information and available times, call the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office at 265-4277 ext. 2610.
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