The regional jail will establish a free complaint line so inmates can directly reach the top two officials at the jail, and healthier menus, hopefully with local produce, are also planned.
Sherman County Sheriff Brad Lohrey, the overseeing sheriff for the four-county Northern Oregon Regional Corrections Facility (NORCOR), gave those updates to the jail board Feb. 28.
He said healthier meals will cost 30 cents more per meal on the adult side of the jail and 50 centsmoreper meal on the juvenile side.
He said farmers have wanted to donate produce before, but it wasn’t possible due to lack of storage and because the food wasn’t inspected.
“Our goal is to provide fresher food to all our inmates,” Lohrey said. “Fun fact of NORCOR: People flush their apples and plug toilets. Never would’ve guessed it.”
He also told the board that NORCOR “is a model for what jails should be as far as ratings and overall liability” in terms of insurance coverage. Medical claims were “off the charts good.”
Gilliam County Sheriff Gary Bettencourt said the South Gilliam Medical Center donated a dental chair to the jail, saving the expense of escorting inmates to local dental offices.
When former jail Administrator Bryan Brandenburg resigned last year, the board decided to appoint a sheriff to oversee the adult facility and a county juvenile director to oversee the juvenile facility. Wasco County Juvenile Director Molly Rogers oversees the juvenile facility.
On the juvenile side, Rogers said the juvenile facility has contracted with the Oregon Youth Authority to put four youth from throughout the state into NORCOR’S long-standing residential treatment program.
The OYA contract started Jan. 5, and OYA would like to put six youth in it ideally, Rogers said. It is a residential program where youth get extra services including cognitive behavioral interventions, additional access to mental health and drug and alcohol services, and individual treatment plans focusing on youths needs to better engage in long term treatment, she said.
It had previously only been open to youth from the four member counties of NORCOR and to eastern Oregon counties.
Rogers also told the board that they were all given a thick binder with a variety of documents in it that covered various agreements the jail was a party to, along with other information.
Board Chair Bob Benton, a Hood River County commissioner, said he’d asked for it because there were things getting signed previously without full board approval.
“We’re all learning in this new structure,” he said of the new format with an overseeing sheriff and juvenile director, “and I think it’s great.”
After the election of President Donald Trump, the jail board began seeing regular attendance by critics of the jail’s contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house immigration detainees. Meetings regularly featured tense exchanges between Brandenburg, the former administrator, and audience members. The jail has had daily protests against the housing of detainees for almost two years.
In a sign of how things have changed, Teresa Hepker, a member of one of the groups that has opposed the housing of detainees, has been appointed to the jail’s budget committee.
Lohrey recently met with Hepker’s group, the NORCOR Community Resources Coalition, and Hepker said her group got informative responses they hadn’t heard before.
Tim Schechtel, who also opposes the jail’s contract with ICE, said the previous administrator made a strategic choice not to engage with the public in any meaningful way
Schechtel said, “I’m glad to see new faces, I’m glad to see more openness now…. There’s an opportunity to enhance public safety.”
Lohrey replied, “It’s my intention as long as I’m in this spot to continue to meet with you guys and work out solutions. They had some great ideas.”
Lohrey said he appreciated hearing from the group, and said, “We’re not as far apart as we all think we are.”
Benton said, “That’s great to hear,” given what’s happened in the last several years.
Lohrey said the complaint call line being set up through the jail’s phone contractor, Telmate, will allow verbal and typed complaints. They will be time-stamped, as will be the response. He and Jail Commander Dan Lindhorst will receive the complaints.
Lohrey also commended the actions of a corrections officer and a nurse who saved the life of a female inmate recently. The combative inmate was placed in a holding cell, and officers could not get her rings off because her fingers were swollen.
An officer checked on her and found her on the floor choking and foaming at the mouth. She had swallowed a ring, and required surgery to have it removed.
Brian Stovall, one of four Wasco County taxpayers who sued the jail over its housing of immigration detainees, said at the end of the meeting, “It was a pleasure coming to the meeting today because I think good things are happening with this board.”
The lawsuit had a mixed resolution last month. A judge found it did not violate the state’s “sanctuary law” for the jail to house immigration detainees. However, the judge ruled that the jail’s notification of ICE about the release dates of foreign-born inmates violated the law.
Lindhorst said the jail stopped making such notifications last April.