Jail inmate roster halved

The Lincoln County Jail currently houses about half the number of inmates typically held in the facility, as the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office has limited bookings to the most serious crimes in an effort to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the detention center. (Photo by Kenneth Lipp)

NEWPORT — With the implementation of temporary policies to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in the Lincoln County Jail, there are now about half the number of inmates incarcerated in the facility compared to the average.

As of Wednesday, there were 83 people held in the jail in Newport. Typically, the detention center holds about 165. A corrections officer told the News-Times inmates were now being housed one person to a cell, with all two- and four-person cells holding a single occupant.

On March 14, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office announced in a statement that it would “only accept arrestees for serious crimes and individuals who pose an extreme risk to the community. All other individuals suspected of committing crimes will be cited and released to appear in court.” The measure was taken “to limit the opportunity for the COVID-19 to enter the facility, which could cause devastating effects to deputies and other adults in custody,” the statement read.

The sheriff’s office recently reevaluated those pandemic-related protocols — which also included limiting patrol division contact for non-emergent calls, reduced in-person services at the animal shelter, and postponing appointments for concealed carry permits, among other measures — and determined they should remain in place indefinitely.

Kelly Simon, interim legal director for the ACLU of Oregon, said the LCSO made the right move.

“Public health experts agree that reducing the jail population is necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19. We applaud Lincoln County for reducing its reliance on incarceration for some crimes during this pandemic. This is exactly what we need to balance public health and public safety,” Simon said.

Law enforcement agencies and correctional agencies around the country have limited arrests and released inmates in order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission among crowded populations. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday he would release almost 1,000 people incarcerated in the state’s prisons for non-violent offenses. Last week, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown directed the Department of Corrections to provide her with information on inmates who might be candidates for release, including those with risk factors for coronavirus complications and those who are nearing the end of their sentences. The request produced a list of about 3,000 inmates, and Brown subsequently indicated she did not have plans to undertake a large-scale release.

In a statement issued April 10, Brown said she would review the DOC data to see if individual releases should take place. “However, it would be irresponsible to compromise public safety for indeterminate benefits to public health,” Brown said. “Whether an adult in custody should be released before the end of their sentence or not is a decision that must be weighed based on the individual merits of their situation. I want to be clear: at this time, I have no specific plans to abandon that case-by-case approach.

A group of inmates has filed a class-action lawsuit against Brown and prison officials for their alleged failure to protect them from the coronavirus, asking for the provision of adequate medical care, access to cleaning supplies and expanded testing within DOC facilities.

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