The Bureau of Indian Affairs to replace deteriorating Warm Springs Jail
"The straw that broke the camel's back was COVID," says Warm Springs Police Chief Bill Elliott, who describes cinderblock 51-bed jail as "a dungeon."
Built in 1989, the structure has a primitive ventilation system. The department closed the Warm Springs jail permanently in August of 2020 because they couldn't isolate individuals from the coronavirus.
"But we've been closed on and off since 2017," says Lieutenant Crystal Greene, head of corrections for Warm Springs.
The reservation experiences frequent power outages and the jail's backup generator frequently fails.
The troubled water system on the reservation made it unsafe to house inmates at the jail.
Greene made it her personal mission to call every concern to the attention of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The showerheads spit out a mere dribble of water, brown water.
The metal bed frames separate from the wall.
The ceiling leaks.
Inmates and staff endured summer 2020 without air conditioning.
The women's recreation area has saplings growing out of the cracks in the floor. Saplings.
An exterior wall wobbles when the heavy door opens, creating an ever-worsening crack along a mortar line.
"The smoke alarms go off at random," says Greene, "and we can't tell if it's actually smoke or a faulty connection."
Greene sent a steady stream of maintenance requests to the BIA starting in 2013 and raised the heat on the issue in 2020 when Elliott took over the department. "I think I flooded their system," says Greene.
"The BIA allowed this deterioration to take place," says Elliott.
While the Confederated Tribes staff the jail, the BIA owns the property and Elliott says, is responsible to maintain it.
"Greene made a persuasive argument," says Elliot. "She articulated all the structural and public safety issues."
Persistence paid off. In June of this year, the BIA allocated funds to replace the Warm Springs jail.
"I was so excited," said Greene. "You work and work and work and nothing happens, then suddenly there's a breakthrough."
Greene wants a clean and safe facility that respects the people who work there, and the people housed there.
"If you treat people like animals, they will respond in kind," says Greene. She realizes people often think of inmates as bad people. She sees them as people in a bad place, often suffering from addiction.
"I tell them you don't end up in jail by accident. There's a reason you're here."
Her reason for being there is to help them. She says she's had offers to work elsewhere, but this is her community. "This community has embraced me with such love," she says.
The when, where and how much for the facility are still being decided. It will sit on 2 acres of land. It will follow one of the boilerplate blueprint designs the BIA has for jails around the country.
The new facility will have 60 beds. It will have a kitchen for preparing meals, not simply heating up entrees. It will have places for health and addiction programs, family visits, and recreation.
Currently Warm Springs contracts with the North Oregon Regional Correctional Facilities to house their inmates. Some go into the federal system, some people arrested on state warrants go to regional county jails.
Closing the Warm Springs jail cut the corrections staff from 14 to two employees. Once the BIA sets a construction timeline, Greene can begin recruiting staff.
By the time new hires have attended the corrections academy and gone through all the training, Warm Springs will be able to open a new facility with a new, fully trained staff.
"So, if you know anyone who wants to start a career in law enforcement," says Greene, "send them my way."
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