Yamhill County well-prepared for new pre-trial stipulations

Not everyone who is accused of committing a crime belongs in jail.

That seems an odd statement, doesn’t it, especially for the county’s chief law enforcement officer and conservator of the peace. In a country where “Lock ‘em up and throw away the key” and “You do the crime, you do the time” are peppered through our culture, it seems counterintuitive to advocate against holding people in jail.

Historically, the options on arrest have been to lodge accused lawbreakers until they see a judge or are able to post a security amount, often termed “bail.”

But in law enforcement, there is often a level of discretion – for example, whether to issue a warning, write a citation or make an arrest. And over the last decade, this discretion has extended to whether or not to lodge someone accused of a crime.

Since 2011, Yamhill County has been participating in the National Institute of Corrections’ Evidence-Based Decision Making Initiative, known as EBDMI. In keeping with that, Yamhill County’s Criminal Justice partners have been working together to identify ways to better manage the various aspects of the justice system, from pre-trial to prosecution and sentencing, and on to correctional treatment.

In the process, we feel we have instituted suitable means to help us identify those who pose no public safety risk and might in fact be harmed by remaining incarcerated while awaiting their day in court. In addition to public safety risk, we consider the level of the alleged crime, any known or documented mental health conditions, employment status, family and community support network and ability to follow through with the justice process.

For those who commit minor crimes, being held in jail pre-trial can prove more detrimental than being booked and released, studies show. The loss of a job and disconnection from family and community support can have disproportionately negative consequences over the long term.

For those suffering from a mental health condition, studies show that the longer their incarceration, the more tenuous their condition becomes. That’s true even when provided with appropriate medication and support services, which we endeavor to do.

To compound the mere accusation of a minor crime with loss of a support network is disadvantageous to all in the community.

As District Attorney Brad Berry noted in his guest commentary last week, the system we have worked on in Yamhill County during the past decade is not perfect. However, we have taken the time and had the focus to work through problems and concerns that arose as we developed this system, and, as I’ve learned in my 22 years in law enforcement, we can always improve.

So how will Senate Bill 48 fit it when it is enacted July 1 as Oregon Revised Statutes 135.233?

In Yamhill County, we already have a solid base of research, experience and knowledge. We have, in essence, been utilizing a form of SB48’s pretrial release for more than a decade.

There will be modifications, as we work together with our criminal justice partners to implement local presiding judge orders specific to our county.

Those orders will have us taking into account several factors, including the level and type of crime, the accused individual’s prior involvement with law enforcement, and any other special concerns or conditions unique to the situation and individual, such as perceived risk to the community.

But that is already part of the decisionmaking process in Yamhill County, due to our continuing EBDMI work and the positive relationships enjoyed among the Sheriff’s Office, other law enforcement agencies, the District Attorney’s Office, the Department of Community Justice, the Judiciary, and Health and Human Services. So I’m confident the new ORS will mainly serve to solidify statewide a methodology we already have in place locally.

While there will be adjustments during the transition from long-standing local practice to a system based on the new judicial orders  required under the statute,  I have every confidence that Yamhill County leaders and key stakeholders will continue to work together to keep the community safe by ensuring that they are still protected from those accused of more serious crimes.

A functional justice system, one which is fair and effective, respects the rights of all those who have been impacted by an alleged crime.

As sheriff of Yamhill County, it is my responsibility to safeguard the community and manage the risk to public safety that crime creates. But it is also my responsibility to ensure those accused of a crime are allowed due process, and that prior to conviction, we lodge in jail only those who should truly be there.


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