Lincoln County’s jail will continue COVID-19 protocols, requiring inmates and staff to wear masks, keep cells at single occupancy and determine who goes to jail.
While most of Oregon reopens today from COVID-19 restrictions enacted by Governor Kate Brown, the Lincoln County Jail is treated the same as mass transit, hospitals and congregate housing by keeping restrictions in place.
According to Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department (LCSO), jail supervisors make judgement calls on a case-by-case basis determining who to accept into the jail. Cells are reserved for higher crimes, such as murder, domestic violence and person-to-person offenses. Jailers keep inmates separated by only allowing one person per cell. Ultimately, the decision to keep COVID-19 policies in place rests with Sheriff Curtis Landers and Jail Commander Lieutenant Jamie Russell.
Lincoln City Police Department (LCPD) has expressed frustration with the jail’s intake policy, saying it’s hard to see suspects that should be lodged in jail stay on the streets.
“We have been giving out citations in lieu of arrest,” an LCPD official said. “Felony warrants just get a court date and some offenders are not accepted to the jail. If they fail to appear they get another citation.”
Since the jail’s policy went into effect, Lincoln City Police have been making phone calls to see if a suspect in custody will be accepted into the jail. If the jail supervisor says yes, the suspect is lodged, but more often than not, the answer is no, unless it deals with restraining orders, stalking or violent crimes, which are always accepted.
LCPD has called the jail’s policy a vicious cycle of catch-and-release and most officers are not happy with the jail keeping the policy in effect. LCPD acknowledges that reopening is new and it will take some time for the system to adjust, however, worries about a giant backlog of court dates is still looming.
A serious backlog of pending cases is nothing new to Lincoln County, as before the pandemic cases were stacking up, with only so much the court system can do with a limited number of prosecutors trying cases. Lincoln City Police say newly elected District Attorney Lanee Danforth has been “wonderful” in doing what she can to keep criminals off the streets, but they worry about the backlog that is accruing daily.
“These criminals will be held accountable eventually,” an LCPD spokesperson said. “They’ll get their day.”
Staff shortage is a problem for Lincoln County Jail, exacerbated by a staff member catching COVID-19. Jail staff can be out for 14 days, causing strain on the jail system.
Jail officials said about 30 percent of the population has chosen to get vaccinated and will continue to remind inmates about the vaccine and why they should get it.