Independent Review

A number of outside organizations currently review the jails, such as the Corrections Grand Jury, Disability Rights Oregon, and the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association. While these provide useful looks at the operations, they typically include a few days of visiting the jails each year and are not meant to be continuous monitoring.

Adults in custody would benefit from an ongoing independent review board, particularly for discipline and use of force incidents. These particular matters must be dealt with quickly and cannot be easily addressed by outside agencies that generally do annual reviews. The following reasons demonstrate the need for an outside review.

  • Hearings Officers run discipline hearings. While hearings officers are not part of the facility chain of command, they are still employees of the Sheriff’s Office, which suggests an inherent conflict of interest (even if it was just the perception). According to the National Institute of Corrections, the process must be perceived as being fair – even when individuals disagree about specific incidents. Some quotes from our survey of adults in custody conveyed concerns about fairness:
    • “The hearings process was completely biased”
    • “We dont get a fair trial or hearing when we get accused of disciplinary.”
  • Sheriff’s Office staff conduct use of force investigations that include interviews with the staff involved, but not with the adults in custody who were involved. This implies a potential conflict of interest because the investigations fail to hear the concerns of adults in custody.
  • Our survey contained comments with concerns about the grievance program, including:
    • “Our grieviences do not get looked into or acted upon. If we try to address a problem we get stonewalled or isolated.”
    • “if you put too many grievinces theres reprocussions”
    • “retaliated against if grievances were filed” 

We were pleased to see that the Sheriff’s Office has moved toward a more independent inspector function by hiring a non-sworn inspector. This, however, does not replace the need for an independent review board.

There are many advantages to an independent review board to help ensure the perception of fairness that the National Institute of Corrections recommends. The National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement lists some of the following benefits:

  • Complainants are given a place to voice concerns outside of the law enforcement agency.
  • Oversight can help hold the department accountable for employees’ actions.
  • The community at large can be reassured of fair processes in the jails.
  • When the oversight agency confirms a complainant’s allegation(s), complainants may feel validated.
  • Similarly, when the oversight agency exonerates the jail staff, they may feel vindicated.

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