By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

From the moment the police make an arrest to the time the suspect appears in court to face charges, a clock is ticking.

Picture it as a line of dominoes set on end with the first one tipping at the moment of the arrest. The longer the inmate sits in jail, the less likely they are to have a job to return to. That domino falls into the next one, the ability to pay rent. That domino tips into the the next, the likelihood of being able to keeps one’s family, children included, intact. The commanders at the Marion County Jail are trying to stop the dominoes from toppling as soon as possible.

“Anything more than three days and inmates start losing stabilizing factors fast. Even family starts to disintegrate after three days. When it all goes away, it becomes unsafe for the inmate to return to the community,” said Commander Jeff Wood, who oversees community corrections programs for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. “We have to look at who can be managed safely in the community and we don’t want to have to wait weeks and weeks until they get back some semblance of normal.”

If nights in jail are the stick in deterring crime, Wood’s programs are the carrot that allows those being monitored by public safety agencies to be held accountable while awaiting trial and even if they’ve already been convicted. The tools in the community corrections toolbox range from parole and probation officers, to technological monitoring and things as simple as robocall reminders that a court date is pending.

“As corny as it sounds, incentives work. Accountability is a factor, but we have to be reasonable about when to offer someone another chance,” Wood said.

Lt. Chris Baldridge, spokesperson for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, offered a recent example:

“We got a tip that a guy with a parole violation warrant was at a business where he worked. We took two or three deputies and spoke with him on the site. He lied to us at the start, but we eventually confirmed who he was. But the employer came out and spoke with us and told us that he was a great employee. Then a family member showed up and told us he wasn’t using or committing new crimes. We called his parole officer and we worked out a solution in which he came back to jail and was back out at his job as soon as possible.”

While that decision was made in the field, Wood and his counterpart overseeing the jail itself, Commander Tad Larson, are working on ways to bolster the alternative monitoring programs offered by the Sheriff’s Office. In the coming months, they hope to debut two new employees whose sole duties will be interviewing suspects as soon as possible after an arrest to determine their suitability for a monitored release.

“They will interview the suspect and determine what resources they already have in the community. Some might be released and have to deal with robocalls, others might get regular one-on-one contacts, others might end up with GPS monitors,” Wood said.

For inmates already sentenced to jail time, the Transition Center provides alternative supervision that allows inmates to maintain employment off-site or take part in community service projects – think highway work crews. Additionally, they can qualify for programs aimed at improving life skills, such as parenting and anger management classes, or spend time applying for jobs or building resumes on monitored computers. As a whole, the community corrections programs is as much a set of diversionary tools as it is a way to alleviate overcrowding at MCJ.

“You can’t build enough beds to lock away all the people you don’t want to see. You have to remember that, eventually, the ones who go to prison are coming back to society, and usually back to the communities where they were arrested. We try to provide stabilizing factors through programs we offer at the Transition Center,” Larson said.

Regardless of whether someone spends a night in jail or is determined to be a match for alternative monitoring, the work is done with an eye on the ticking clock.

“We are trying overcome the logjam of people going from the streets to arrest to court to incarceration to the streets and then another arrest. The swifter we get someone through the system the more amenable they are to taking part in support services that can stop them from re-offending,” Wood said.