EDITOR’S NOTE: Tillamook County Sheriff’s Office is beginning a new series of messaging to help keep the public informed and educated about the happenings at their Sheriff’s Office. The “Community Roll Call” series comes straight from Sheriff Joshua Brown and will be appearing regularly on our social media, and on the Tillamook County Pioneer. We hope you find it helpful and informative.
By Sheriff Joshua Brown
All Sheriffs are required to provide and maintain a jail per Oregon Revised Statute. The Tillamook County Sheriff’s Office operates a 96-bed facility. Recently there has been a lot of questions about our jail and whether or not it is open. Our jail is open, but we are currently limiting the number of intakes coming into our facility.
When I was sworn into office on January 4, 2021, our jail was already operating under pandemic restrictions and rules and the census count was very low. Today, our census count remains low due to following guidelines and recommendations from the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association (OSSA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Oregon Health Authority (OHA).
Jails and prisons are considered congregate living and as such they have their own unique set of guidelines that must be followed. Guidelines that offer direction for cleaning, sanitizing, laundry service, meal preparation, and most importantly, quarantine. Until recently the CDC was recommending the full 14-day quarantine for all intakes regardless of symptoms, known exposure, or test result.
In a very best-case scenario, our facility has 8 to 10 cells available for quarantine. Just as part of normal day-to-day operations, we must separate our female population and male population and maintain cell space for unique situations such as disciplinary segregation, self-isolation, or medical isolation. These factors all reduce the number of cells available to use for quarantine.
That 14-day quarantine has now been reduced to 10 days and in the coming days, will be reduced to 5 days with no quarantine for some asymptomatic individuals that meet specific criteria. The Tillamook County Jail was never built to be a facility that could easily quarantine many people for multiple days.
Additionally, like with many businesses, we are also approaching critical staffing numbers. Although we’re actively recruiting new corrections deputies, our low staffing level puts a strain on our ability to safely manage a high number of adults in custody.
Because of this, we were forced to narrow down the criminal charges we would be able to house people for – focusing on the more serious and person-to-person crimes. We have been able to make exceptions in certain situations when the need for public safety was overwhelming.
The reason why I and most all Oregon Sheriffs are still honoring the quarantine guidelines is to protect our staff and adults in custody health and to reduce the possibility of costly lawsuits. Our actions throughout this pandemic have been successful. Unlike several other correctional facilities, I am proud to say that we have not had a single inmate test positive for COVID in our jail and have avoided an outbreak so far. It is our goal to continue this.
Although it can be frustrating to the public when it appears that criminals are simply being cited and released after committing crimes, I can assure you it is even more frustrating for law enforcement officers. However, we must remember that pre-trial custody is only a small piece of the entire judicial process, and that except in cases of very serious crimes, all suspects must be offered a bail option per Oregon law.
Even if a person is not immediately brought to jail, or bails out, they are still held accountable as the judicial process continues with charges, indictments, hearings and trials. I hope this helps explain some of what we are dealing with, as well as answers some of your questions. I will continue to update as the situation evolves.