From the office of County Counsel Wayne Belmont
Lincoln County has reached a $2.85-million, wrongful-death settlement with the family of Bradley Thomas. Mr. Thomas died of dehydration while in custody at the Lincoln County Jail in 2015. Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office sent their sincere condolences to Mr. Thomas’ family.
The County took immediate steps following Mr. Thomas’ death to provide staff with additional training. Lincoln County has embraced the Stepping Up Initiative, a national program, which works to reduce the number of individuals with mental illness in local jails. Sadly, Mr. Thomas suffered from a diagnosed mental illness and had just been committed to the Oregon State Hospital one day prior to his death; he remained in custody awaiting a bed at the medical facility. The County is taking the tragic death of Mr. Thomas very seriously and will continue to enhance training for all staff in an effort to greatly reduce the risk of this occurring again.
As mentioned by Mr. Belmont, the county is pursuing an ambitious transformation of jail operations to ensure that those who belong in jail are in jail, and those who don’t, like those on drugs, are mentally ill or both, get the treatment they need to have a second, third or fourth chance at life. The county is embracing a tried and true process of directing those who don’t belong in jail to very structured treatment procedures that have already produced encouraging results in other counties around Oregon and the country.
The process involves a a tightly woven net of services – law enforcement, crisis intervention, medical and psychological evaluation, in and outpatient programs, even job training if needed. The idea is that being mentally ill or drug addicted shouldn’t put you in jail where things, too often, can only get worse. High numbers of addicted or mental health challenged inmates cause the jail to overflow, requiring the pre-mature release of hardened criminals onto the streets of the county due to limits placed on jail populations by state and federal law.
County officials say with federal and state grants and county resources, the “construction” of the mix of programs may take up to 18 months to accomplish. The county has a new Sheriff, of course, Curtis Landers, who has demonstrated his own frustration with having to run a jail populated by many drug addicted and mental health challenged inmates who jail personnel cannot help in ways they truly need. Sheriff Landers has expressed his commitment to ensure that the new Stepping Up program will help turn a new leaf at the Lincoln County Jail and at other jails around Oregon.