The Daily Astorian [Astoria, Oregon], March 3, 1997

Hard time hits bottom line

County grapples with too many offenders, not enough space or money

By Andrea Kennet
of The Daily Astorian

Only 24, Gary Gotschall is in the Clatsop County Jail for his 20th time.

Since he got out of high school six years ago, he's been arrested for menacing, assault, theft, trespass, resisting arrest, supplying contraband, hindering prosecution, failure to appear in court and other charges.

A lot of times he's been locked up because he broke one of the conditions of his probation or parole. Usually by drinking. "Just get drunk, party, (be) wild," he says with a shrug.

Last summer he spent six months in the state penitentiary because he violated probation so often and had been convicted of a felony. Once paroled, he messed up again and was sent back to the county jail for a brief stay. Released Jan. 5, he was back five days later.

The rules his parole and probation officers want him to live by are too tough, he complains.

"You can't be quote, perfect, like they want you to be. No citizen is," he says. "Like any young man, you're going to want a little alcohol, a little marijuana, try some mushrooms and acid, maybe."

photo by Karl Maasdam - The Daily Astorian

Gary Gotschall is only 24 but is in the Clatsop County Jail for his 20th time. Clatsop County is now responsible for paying the tab to lock up Gotschall when he violates his parole.

He ponders for a few moments when asked what it would take to turn his life around. "That's a tough question, there. I've never really thought about it," he replies, stroking his groomed blond goatee.

Maybe a free education so people like him will feel better about themselves and can get better jobs, suggests Gotschall, who says he's been a choker setter, fished commercially and worked in construction.

For now, he'll serve his 90-day sentence in the county jail. Two months ago, he would have been the state's problem.

When Oregon voters in 1994 passed Measure 11, setting mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes, the state scrambled to make room in its prisons for the anticipated influx of prisoners. One of the state Legislature's solutions was to pass Senate Bill 1145 and shift responsibility for people on parole, probation or sentenced to a year or less in prison over to the counties, starting Jan. 1.

Most of these prisoners are like Gotschall and were convicted of felonies and then violated their parole or probation. Either a judge or the state parole board has ordered them back behind bars.

There are 223 Clatsop County residents on probation and 64 on parole. Less than 100 are considered to be high or medium safety risks.

The state promised the counties enough money to cover the cost. But in Clatsop County, at least, it's not adding up.

Clatsop County got about $63,000 to cover inmates serving sentences of a year or less from January through June, the end of the current fiscal year. Since there's no more room in the 64-bed county jail, Clatsop County is renting beds in state prisons, at $54 a day each, for those prisoners. The county basically turns the state money back.

The state money for those prisoners will run out in April. Sheriff John Raichl worried that he would have to start releasing eight inmates a day from the county jail to make room for these former state prisoners, or not lock them up.

Luckily, Clatsop County was slow to hire a corrections director and parole and probation officers during the transition. When it took over parole and probation in January, the county inherited about $55,000 that wasn't spent on those positions. It may be enough to make up for the cash shortage through June.

The crisis isn't over, only postponed, Raichl warns.

On July 1, the county will get another infusion of state money for the 1997-98 fiscal year. If things don't change, the state money will run out in December, and the county will be in trouble again.

The state money isn't enough for several reasons. The state underestimated the number of offenders sentenced to a year or less or whose parole or probation would be revoked, county officials say. The state figured on 14 during the first six months of the year. Raichl says 20 to 25 is more accurate; there are currently nine.

Jail officials kept Gotschall and two other violators because their sentences, 60 to 90 days, were so short and the jail had room for them. A fourth was sent back by the state to finish his 90-day sentence. The other six went to state facilities to serve six-month sentences.

Also, there's debate over whether the state ever intended to provide enough money to incarcerate each of these violators, or whether the state wanted counties to find cheaper options, such as house arrest with electronic monitoring and day-reporting centers.

And there's a philosophical disagreement among members of the county's Public Safety Coordinating Council, which recommends local community corrections programs, over what works best: incarceration or treatment.

Dollars may be what settles the debate.

Robert Cherkos, the county's new corrections director, expects the state will give him $688,500 to operate community correction programs in 1997-98.

If the county continues to send offenders serving short-term sentences to state prisons at the same rate it is now, he says it will eat up about $220,000 - almost one-third of his budget.

He's proposing alternatives to incarceration ranging from a day reporting drop-in center to electronic monitoring to regular surveillance and face-to-face contact with parolees and probationers at their homes, jobs and schools.

His preferred and most aggressive proposal is a jail furlough program combining a day reporting center, surveillance and direct contacts, and could include education, drug counseling, community service and employment.

It's also the most expensive, at $104,000, and means hiring two more people. The money isn't in his budget. Cherkos thinks because of the treatment programs he'll be sending fewer people back to jail which would save money.

Simply locking people up doesn't work, Cherkos says. "You do not get behavioral changes unless you supplement that with treatment, all the research shows," he says.

But he admits that it could be 18 months before his proposal might show results.

Raichl wonders how effective these alternative programs will be with offenders like Gotschall, who have violated their parole or probation repeatedly. "I'm not in favor of these proposals, but I realize we don't have much (money) to work with," he says.

The council's strategic planning subcommittee will discuss the proposals more at 4 p.m. March 19. It will make a recommendation to the full Public Safety Coordinating Council at its next meeting at noon April 2.

Who's Behind Bars?

Here are profiles of the nine Clatsop County residents incarcerated under Senate Bill 1145 so far this year:

A 23-year-old woman serving six months in the state women's prison after a judge convicted her of violating her probation Jan. 13. She originally was convicted of drug possession two times in 1995.

A 31-year-old man serving six months in prison after a judge convicted him of probation violation Feb. 4. He was originally convicted of drug possession in 1994.

A 35-year-old man serving six months in prison after the state parole board revoked his parole last month. He's been in the Clatsop County Jail 10 times, the first time in 1994 for parole violation. He's been in state prisons before.

A 63-year-old man is serving 90 days in the county jail after the parole board revoked his parole. The state sent him back to finish his sentence, his third time in this jail. The man was originally convicted of first-degree sexual abuse.

A 24-year-old man is serving 60 days in the county jail for a probation violation. The man was originally convicted of drug possession. It's his fifth time in this county jail.

A 33-year-old woman serving 90 days for probation violating, as well as drug possession and endangering the welfare of a minor. It's her third time in the jail.

A 24-year-old man serving a 90-day sentence for parole violation. It's his 20th time in this jail since 1991. He's been arrested for menacing, criminal trespass, harassment, resisting arrest, contempt, hindering prosecution, supplying contraband to other inmates, assault and theft. He spent six months in a state prison last summer for parole violation.

A 28-year-old man serving six months in prison for probation violation on an original charge of drug possession.

Another man, age unavailable, sent to the state penitentiary this week to serve 90 days for parole violation.



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