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Editorial: Are ‘Get out of jail’ cards a budget solution?

Published on June 13, 2017 2:31PM

Editorial voice of the Chieftain

Editorial voice of the Chieftain


The Wallowa County Sheriff’s Department has begun releasing lesser bad guys on their own recognizance rather an processing them into Umatilla County Jail.

It’s a budget-saving measure. We don’t know a lot more than that because county officials are still in the denial phase. It’s still being discussed, money may still be restored to the budget and the practice may end, the budget isn’t set yet, we really don’t know any more, it’s not a story. It’s become a familiar refrain.

Regardless, this step marks a notable change in policy by the sheriff’s department, and we believe readers should be aware of it and have the opportunity weigh in.

Anecdotally, several individuals in the community have expressed a degree of shock over the move.

According to figures The Chieftain obtained from Umatilla County, which holds Wallowa County’s contract for jail services, $40,300 has been spent thus far into the fiscal year. Since the contract began in March 2016, a total of $62,500 has been spent.

Sources there say 235 individuals have been processed through their facility on behalf of Wallowa County so far in the 2016-17 fiscal year. The numbers reached a high of 30 in boh May and July 2016.

Everyone understands money being short. Counties particularly seem to have taken the brunt of shortfalls with little help forthcoming from state coffers for beleaguered general funds. That’s the hand that has been dealt.

The missing piece of the puzzle here is do the taxpayers of Wallowa County want scofflaws deemed to be “no threat” to the public to be walking around rather than cooling their heels in jail?

The answer may well be “yes, by all means,” but to this point, no taxpayer we are aware of has been asked. The issue appears to be a rather punitive “we’ll show you” sort of measure. “No new taxes you say ... fine. We’ll let accused criminals walk.”

The numbers have gone up over the past 17 months because of crackdowns on drugs and other violations. That apparently was at the behest of taxpayers with concerns about crime. Are taxpayers OK with the a more lax approach to drugs simply because dealing with the financial aftermath is denting the county budget?

They may be. Perhaps the message is “yes, crack down on crime, but don’t get into red ink doing it.”

And that’s a legitimate response, but who decided that’s what taxpayers wanted? The supposition here is that because taxpayers didn’t storm the Bastille when the policy was changed, everyone is fine with it.

Well, are you?

The county has just a couple weeks remaining before it finalizes a budget. It’s unknown at this point whether funding will be restored for the sheriff to continue the previous jail policy.

If you are someone concerned about this, let your voice be heard.



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