Tag Archives: Columbia County Jail

Columbia County Passes Jail Funding

Columbia County citizens voted in favor of a tax levy to support funding their county jail in the May 20, 2014 Primary.

In a close vote, Measure 5-238 won by just 296 votes or 1.26%. A total of 11,768 votes were cast.

In other local election news, County Commissioner Henry Heimuller and Wayne Mayo ended their race in a virtual deadlock, with Heimuller outpacing Mayo 5,341 votes to 5,278. There were 92 write in votes meaning neither Heimuller or Mayo received the necessary 50% of the vote to secure election. A run off will take place in November.

In  the two contested judges races, incumbent for Judge of the Circuit Court, Pos. 3 Jenefer Grant easily handled a write-in challenge by Agnus Petersen, winning almost 80% of the vote. In the race for Judge of the Circuit Court, Pos. 1, Jean Martwick received 37.67% of the vote while Cathleen Callahan received 36.39% of the vote. Jason Heym finished third with 24.72 of the vote. A run off will be held in November.

For all election results go to: http://www.co.columbia.or.us/departments/elections-department/election-results

An Opinion: Why We Should Keep The Jail Open


Voters guides for the upcoming May 20 election have arrived and ballots should be showing up any day now.  Voters in Columbia County have a few candidates to decide between.  But they also have a big decision to make on whether to continue to operate the Columbia County Jail.

The Columbia County Board of Commissioners has said, in no uncertain terms, that the jail will close on June 30, 2014 if voters fail to pass Measure 5-238.

The Jail is managed by the Sheriff’s Department and currently can house 110 inmates; twenty-five of those beds are reserved for local inmates.  The rest are rented to the federal government which, according to the County Commissioners, helps subsidize the cost to incarcerate the locals.  The County faces a budget shortfall, due to decreasing O&C Forest Payments, which the County has relied on in the past to fund jail operations.  This past year the O&C funding was $600,000 (down from $2 million in 2008) and there is no O&C funding scheduled for 2015.

The levy calls for a $0.5797  per $1,000 of assessed value property tax for three years, which roughly equates to an increase of $58 on a property valued at $100,000 per year.

Columbia County voters have a history of rejecting tax levies to fund the Sheriff’s Department.  They failed to pass a levy to fund jail operations last year and have repeatedly spurned levies brought forward by Sheriff Jeff Dickerson to fund patrol deputies and other operations.  The Sheriff’s Department has continued to cut personnel; the closing of the jail would be another blow to Dickerson’s administration.

So, how will you vote when your ballot arrives in the mail this month?  Certainly asking voters to approve a measure to increase taxes is rarely popular for obvious reasons.  Like all elections, these  campaigns concerning public safety contain rhetoric from both sides of the issue, making it difficult for voters to understand the issue. Read More

From the Sheriff: The Cost of Incarceration

Jails serve both as the community’s last resort for solving public safety dilemmas and as a critical piece to the overall criminal justice program in every county.

Whether or not we are forced to close our jail by this summer, I think it is important for the community to understand the purposes for incarceration and  the reason why it costs as much as it does to run a local corrections facility.

First, the reasons for incarceration are several. Many people see the jail as a place where we send local citizens convicted of crimes that do not merit a prison sentence, and, while that is true, there are a number of other reasons that have just as great of an impact on the overall livability of a community. Jails perform the vital criminal justice function of booking those accused of crimes—from murder to drug dealing, from rape to burglary, and from child abuse to domestic violence and other assaults on vulnerable victims—and then holding those so charged either until they can get before a judge to be arraigned (and held until trial if the charge is severe enough) or released with a date to appear in court.

Jails, then, also become the resting spots for those who fail to appear in court when they are supposed to and where they can be held until the judge sees them. Read More

Voices From the Crowd: Reassessing What We Call Crime

The struggle to get adequate funding for the Columbia County jail has an eerily familiar ring to it.  For those who believe that history has a habit of repeating itself, consider the following.

The gulag prison system of Stalinist Russia was created to punish dangerous criminals, but expanded into an institution that punished just about everyone who was convicted of anything, including petty criminals and political dissidents.  Very soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Soviets abandoned the gulags, not because they ran out of dissidents, but because they ran out of money.

According to 2013 data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 50% of all federal prisoners are incarcerated on drug-related charges and 10.6% are in for immigration-related crimes.  Throw in all the white collar crooks and very quickly you will see that fully two thirds of the prison population is made up of non-violent criminals.  Although these numbers cover only federal prisons, it is important to remember that virtually every person arrested on suspicion of (take your pick) begins their incarceration in a county jail.

A buzz phrase like “Let’s Get Tough on Crime” fits neatly on a bumper sticker.  It may generate some heat, but it provides no light.  We’ve been locking up otherwise law-abiding citizens for drug crimes since the Nixon administration, yet the addiction rate is roughly the same today as it was then.  Same story for people entering the country illegally.  Albert Einstein was correct in saying that repeating the same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome amounts to insanity.  Read More

Columbia County Jail Loses Lawsuit

A lawsuit levied against the Columbia County jail has awarded $15,000 to the Prison Legal News (PLN), a free publication that proclaims on its website that it is “protecting human rights.” These are the rights of convicted and alleged criminals who are incarcerated in county jails.  On their website, PLN advertises discounted telephone calls while in jail; books titled “Sue the Doctor and Win“ and “authentic videos shot in American prisons” where one video depicts inmates in Lowndes County, Georgia attacking a guard, taking his keys and escaping from jail. They go on to steal a vehicle.

Due to the shrinking budget at the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, there aren’t enough guards to monitor the mail that comes into the jail and therefore the sheriff made a decision to go with a post card policy. Contraband is easy to hide in mail, such as envelopes and magazines. As you can imagine, criminals can be very creative when sending methamphetamine – a tiny amount of powder – buried in the mail, for instance. The jail requires a minimum of four guards on duty at all times, and they are currently at that level. This makes it impossible to pull a guard off the line to go through incoming mail to look for contraband. Read More

Town Hall Held to Discuss Impending Jail Closure

A Town Hall, hosted by Vernonia’s Voice, was held on Wednesday, March 12, to address concerns surrounding the closing of the Columbia County jail.  About fifteen people were in attendance.

All three Columbia County Commissioners, Tony Hyde, Earl Fisher, and Henry Heimuller, were part of the panel, along with Undersheriff Andy Moyer, representing the Sheriff’s Department.

Undersheriff Andy Moyer and County Commissioners Earl Fisher, Tony Hyde and Henry Heimuller were in Vernonia for a Town Hall March 12.

Undersheriff Andy Moyer and County Commissioners Earl Fisher, Tony Hyde and Henry Heimuller were in Vernonia for a Town Hall March 12.

Commissioner Hyde made it very clear at the outset of the meeting that the County intends to close the jail, and is already planning for that eventuality, as they begin their budget process for the upcoming 2014-15 fiscal year.

“This is not a threat,” said Hyde.  “It’s not ‘We may…’  We just went through some very difficult preliminary budget numbers today.  We are closing the jail.  Without a levy we are closing the jail; there are no options left.”

A citizens group “Keep Prisoners in Jail,” was formed early this calendar year to collect signatures, and petitioned the County Commissioners to place another bond levy on the May 20, 2014 ballot in a final attempt to halt the closure of the county jail.  The levy would tax Columbia County property owners $0.58 per thousand and provide the minimum revenue needed to continue jail operations for the next four years.

All three Commissioners agreed that this operation levy was a temporary, stopgap measure.  Hyde explained that there are current economic development projects happening in Columbia County. “Within four to five years I think we are going to be in really good shape as a county,” said Hyde.  “I really, honestly believe that.  We just have so much happening.  We have a lot of companies that are now starting to come into Columbia County.  But right now we have this gap we are up against.” Read More

An Opinion: A Tale of Two Counties

“It’s very difficult economic times, and people are very hesitant to have any tax. But they recognize that they’ve got to have this, and they recognize that there’s no alternative.” 

Those are the words of Lane County Sheriff, Tom Turner after his county finally passed their jail levy after nine failures (since 1998). In 2013 citizens had witnessed the crime situation deteriorate long enough. Taxpayers watched in horror each time the local news showed deputies opening jail doors allowing a parade of gleeful sex offenders, assault perpetrators, wife beaters and drug dealers scurry out into the sunlight, high-fiving each other with freshly lit cigarettes clenched between their smiling lips.

One Lane county single mom remarked, “How do I respond to my 8-year-old when he asks me, ‘Mom, how come those bad guys get to be released from jail?’”

But the more difficult question actually came from her 13-year-old girl who noticed that one of the released men had been arrested for sexual assault, “Why are they letting those gross men back out? Aren’t they still dangerous?” The only answer she gave her young daughter was the truth. “I told her that yes, they are still dangerous and that the voting-age adults just don’t want to pay their taxes to support a jail.”

Stories like these are met with suspicion along with sweeping accusations of being “scare tactics.” But the truth is, they are factual stories that are scary. Without the threat of jail time, what motivation does a criminal have to show up for court dates?

Consider this: deputies arrive at a domestic dispute to find a man who has assaulted his wife. Without a county jail, they can’t incarcerate him. In certain instances, keeping a man who has physically assaulted his wife behind bars for even just one night can be all that comes between a woman’s life and death, or being severely beaten. It’s usually enough time for her and her terrified children to grab a few things and take refuge somewhere safe before he returns. But without a jail, he’ll be given a ticket and the deputies drive away.  In some very severe situations like rape or murder, deputies and judges will have to decide — even by phone in the middle of the night — which of the current inmates occupying those ten rental beds in another county get to go free in order to make room for the new one.

But remember, with two of those beds being occupied by accused murderers — one being the man who killed Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter — that leaves only eight remaining. It’s also important to note that all of those inmates being released are already inmates who have committed very serious crimes.

Times are difficult in Oregon, but Lane County stepped up and did the right thing for themselves. Josephine County however did not. In the year since they have rejected levy 1749, the situation has deteriorated even worse than in Lane County. Slightly larger than Columbia County, Josephine has already seen three murders, one being a horrific stabbing. It’s now common place to see vehicles barreling through town at speeds of over 85-miles per hour. Heroin and methamphetamine deals are done in broad daylight, just outside the cafe. Fights have become so common in local watering holes, that their business has plummeted.

Oddly enough, some of the worst of Josephine County’s problems now falls in the laps of the rest of us Oregonians. I testified in favor of making more funds available for OSP patrols just a few years ago in front of a legislative sub-committee down in Salem. OSP had lost so many troopers that 24-hour coverage no longer existed in many areas. Oregonians were so steaming mad, that ten new troopers were finally added to the roll last year.  Oregonians now have a new reason to be mad, this time not at the legislature. You see, once voters in Josephine County voted down the levy — essentially failing to pay their public safety taxes – the environment became far too dangerous for many families. Once ten state troopers were added, five of them were immediately sent down to manage Josephine County’s public safety problem, thus mooching off the rest of the state who were waiting patiently for those troopers earmarked for the rest of us who pay our public safety taxes, at least for now. I’m  looking at you Columbia County. They also tied up our state detectives. In the past year alone, OSP investigations in Josephine County climbed from five, to an unheard of 85 per month!

In May, Columbia County will have a choice as well: vote “Yes,” enabling us to keep our jail open and our community safe like Lane County did; or vote “No” and turn into the latest crime free-for-all like our neighbors, Josephine County.

It’s your choice.

An Opinion: How Do We Solve the Jail Issue?

Columbia County’s current jail problem is both controversial and profound. There are those who seemingly aren’t able to afford the tax needed to support the levy, I get that, these are tough times. But unless you are weak on crime and/or have a soft spot for criminals, then you too agree we absolutely need a functioning jail like any other legitimate community. If communities didn’t need to incarcerate their criminals, we would see prisoners being released, jails and prisons all over America shutting down daily to  save money.  

I tend to look at issues like these pragmatically and without emotion.

First, we must block out the name callers and screamers  who spend their days parading around from meeting to meeting aroused by the sound of their own voice. You know who I mean. They make no articulate points, they bring no solutions to the table. This is exactly what is making politics dysfunctional and folks sick of the whole process.

Secondly, let’s include all folks — for or against the levy — who are willing to come forward and help to solve the problem in a civil tone. Conservative, moderate or liberal folks are welcomed to have a seat at the table, as long as they understand the debate will remain respectful. In order to have your ideas considered, you must listen to others.

Thirdly, linking this issue to the past, is irrelevant and does not solve  this problem.  If we miss this one, it will drive up our home owners insurance, car insurance, endanger our children, allow drunk drivers to own the streets, and more. If you cast this warning off as a “scare tactic,” then you aren’t paying attention. I am a very open-minded person and I will certainly entertain all concepts that arrive at the solution; as long as we do create a solution.

Calling people names is the mark of a weak mind who cannot articulate themselves effectively. Once the frontal cortex begins to process information, it is quickly overloaded and like a garbage disposal that isn’t functioning properly, it spews out a continuous flow of putrid, lurid sewage.

Making articulate points and arriving at solutions takes skill, but that’s what this country was built on. Small, rural communities of the pioneer-past had many significant problems, but they put their minds together to find those pertinent solutions. Sure, they also had the to deal with those who had nothing constructive to contribute and festered on the excitement of seeing their names in print and hearing their opinions over others, but they were quickly cast aside and concentrated on those who were serious problem solvers. This is what we must do now.

Even if you are against the current form of funding, that’s fine, your opinion is respected. If you don’t  care for the levy, but  express your concerns respectfully, that  is good because that is where we start to negotiate. These other noise-makers and name-callers are of no help to the process.

ALL smart and responsible people certainly agree we need a jail — unless you are soft on crime and you want to reward criminals — so let’s only focus on the constructive thinkers.


Randy Sanders is a photographer and blogger.  He occasionally writes for Vernonia’s Voice and can be reached by email:  Randy.Sanders@Live.com.

An Open Letter From Columbia County Sheriff Jeff Dickerson

To Columbia County Citizens:

I am writing to you on my concern for the future of our jail and what I believe it will mean for our community.  While no one can know for sure the degree to which the loss of the county jail will impact the way we live, I do believe with all my heart that it will be worse than most of us imagine.

As we have seen our jail budget shrink over the last few years, and as we have publicized the early releases of inmates, there have been accusations of “scare tactics” being used to motivate voters out of fear.

I will tell you that I am fearful of what is coming if our jail closes—for the following reasons:

  • Taking people into custody on a wide variety of misdemeanor and felony charges will largely cease to occur. Last year, more than 1,200 local police arrests were lodged in our jail. Next year, police officers will still arrest and file charges, but they will not be able to find jail space anywhere to hold most law breakers, even for just one night.
  • I believe this will cause two things to happen — 1) local people who do not like to play by the rules will be emboldened to flagrantly violate the law, knowing there will be no repercussions, and 2) we will attract the criminal element from outside our county, who will also be emboldened in the same manner.
  • Crime will increase, and it will be felt. I do not know to what degree it will occur, but I am sure we will all know about more and more instances of lawlessness inflicted upon our community.
  • Finally, at some point, there will be a call to fund our jail—only the cost will be roughly double to the taxpayer than it would have been if we had just kept it open all along.  The reason is the federal prisoners who subsidize our jail (to the tune of $1.5 to $2.1 million per year) will all be gone, along with the revenue they bring in, and taxpayers who have gotten a state of the art, well-run, efficient and effective facility without paying the total cost of the operation, would then be forced to pay the entire amount.

These are not scare tactics, but they are facts that are scary. It is not my intent to overdramatize the risks, or to “advertise to criminals” that it will be open season in Columbia County. The fact is the criminals already know these things.  I believe it is my duty as your sheriff, to warn you what the future holds according to my many years of law enforcement experience.  I am committed to executing the will of the people with the resources committed to our care, and we are prepared to close our jail if voters this spring decide not to keep it open with the additional taxes we need to do it.  I want to thank those citizens who worked hard gathering signatures to convince our commissioners to give voters one last chance to keep our jail open.  I fully believe that if our jail closes, and a year from now we look back at the vote in May, we will not be blaming the commissioners at all for giving it one last try.  If you have any questions, you can contact me through Facebook or e-mail me at jeff.dickerson@co.columbia.or.us.

Sheriff Jeff Dickerson

An Opinion Pass the Jail Levy

On November 5, Columbia County residents will be asked to vote in a special election.  On that ballot will be Measure 5-234 which proposes a tax levy to raise funds for operation of the Columbia County Jail.

In 1998 Columbia County voters approved funding for the construction of a new jail with a 225 bed capacity.  The jail had no corresponding funding for operations.  The county  has depended on renting beds space to the federal government which is an undependable source of revenue.

The County meanwhile has had to cut bed space they fund due to a General Fund deficit, leading to space shortages and the early release of prisoners.  Right now Columbia County is only able to fund 25 beds in their own jail.

The proposed levy of  $0.5797/per $1,000 of assessed value would provide funding to restore 75 beds for local use as well as funding additional staff for the jail.

Columbia County residents have been notoriously unwilling in the recent past  to support funding for the Sheriff’s Department,  twice rejecting  levies that would have provided additional patrols on our county roads.  This levy is somewhat different as it directly impacts city police as well. Read More