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From the Sheriff's Desk

 Sheriff Dickerson's  commentary on issues affecting the Sheriff's Office.  For the Sheriff's archived comments from previous years, click on the associated year below.

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 Jail Provides Accountability, Hope

August 25, 2016

In my role as Sheriff of Columbia County over the past 8 years I have continued to be impressed with the dedication and commitment of our jail employees to create the kind of environment where those who have broken the peace within our communities are held accountable for their actions, and also, that they are  given the opportunity to change.

The jail serves a number of different purposes, depending on the type of inmate we have:  Some inmates are security risks who remain in our jail awaiting trial; some are spending just a few hours to a couple of days on arrest for charges for which they will appear later in court (but are needing time to cool off/come down from their high/get the mental health services they need, or to bail out, etc); some are serving sentences up to 1 year on misdemeanor convictions;  some are on probation for prior offenses and have been sanctioned by a probation officer because they have violated the terms of their probation; and, others are criminals who were wanted in other jurisdictions but were passing through our County and are waiting for a transport to the outside jurisdiction.

In every case, the jail is never the final stop for those who have broken the law. Some inmates are eventually headed to other places (prison, or another county or state), but many eventually will be back in our own community after they have served their sentences, been released by the courts, or have fulfilled their sanctions.

And because we know that many who are in jail today will be back out in the community where we all  live, our goal is to provide the kind of environment that encourages accountability and responsibility, as well as providing the impetus for change.

Jail is a place where people land after committing various acts of irresponsibility.  But it also needs to be a place where those people can learn to refocus their energies on becoming  more responsible members of society.

Since our resource levels have begun to return to more efficient and effective levels--and thanks to the help of some of our partner agencies--we are seeing new ways of providing the impetus for change within our inmate population.  It starts with the commitment of our staff to provide an atmosphere where accountability and respect are paramount, but in more and more ways, it also includes opportunities for change.

Many inmates lack even a high school education, and we work with outside educational entities to offer G.E.D. programs for those inmates.  We provide mental health services for inmates in crisis, and attempt to get them on a proactive mental health management program with Columbia Community Mental Health both now and when they are released from jail.  We have benefitted from long-term spiritual counseling of inmates through our jail chaplaincy that has given many inmates hope for future change; and in recent months, we have begun to see new, promising, evidence-based programs designed to reduce recidivism by teaching life skills to inmates.

Through our contracted Food Service provider we have begun a Master Baker program. In this program, the inmates complete written assignments and receive a specific number of hours of hands on training. After successfully completing the program, the inmate will receive a certificate that is actually recognized by employers in the food service industry. We also have a Community Works Furlough program. That has been used in a recent beach clean up on Sauvie Island and to augment Community Justice work  programs.

Most recently, grants through the Columbia Community Mental Health program have increased our mental health services to inmates whose primary reason for being in jail are mental health conflicts that lead to criminal behavior.  We are  working more closely with the courts and mental health services in our County to identify those inmates who could benefit from a diversion program designed to get treatment for offenders who qualify.

There are some who believe the best thing to do with offenders is to stack them like cord wood without distinction.  That is not the way we operate here in Columbia County, however.  Because the local jail is never the final landing place for those who commit crimes--and most inmates end up back in our communities--it behooves us to use the time and resources we have wisely:  To create an atmosphere where, if you're doing the time associated with the crime, you do it with dignity and with the hope for a better tomorrow.


Last Updated on Thursday, 25 August 2016 15:56