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MailTribune.com
  • Lost and found

    Prison system must get a handle on keeping track of inmates' possessions
  • Our personal favorite is the case of the missing sunglasses.
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  • Our personal favorite is the case of the missing sunglasses.
    The inmate at Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario couldn't find his. The glasses, he reported, went missing from his cell. And he wanted them back or money.
    Inflamed corrections officials declined the inmate's offer to settle for less than the amount claimed. The inmate even taunted them by reminding them he'd won in court twice before on claims he'd brought against the state — why would they not see the light this time?
    They didn't, and as The Oregonian's Les Zaitz reported this week, they lost big. The inmate was paid $215 for the glasses, plus $3.29 in interest. We figure they were pretty handsome specs at that price.
    But the real whopper is what it cost the state to fight the inmate: $3,436. For that, we figure, one should go through life never having to shield one's eyes against bright light.
    But we do, in not only this instance but to the antiquated procedures surrounding inmate possessions at Oregon's correctional facilities.
    Logs of inmate possessions may be handwritten by corrections officers. The checklists, hard enough to manage within one facility, may or may not be shared among prisons if the inmate is transferred, a common practice. Our correctional facilities, as a result, are unable to communicate about who has what or had what.
    Worse, state rules stipulating and limiting what an inmate may have while incarcerated sometimes go unenforced. Stuff can pile up in the cells, making searches cumbersome and creating for the inmate potential cover for contraband.
    It's not really the $260 we all paid an inmate for damage to his TV during a cell search or even the $125 we all paid to another, at Two Rivers Correctional Institution, for the improper confiscation of 250 pages of porn, though this last one is a doozy. It's the fact that we have no systems in place to fix a problem worth about $60,000 a year in payouts, not counting the amount of time we spend processing roughly 1,000 claims a year.
    A work group is on it, Zaitz reports. And the challenge is large: Oregon at any time takes responsibility for roughly 14,000 inmates and their stuff.
    But at the very least, we can devise a system for knowing who has what, be able to communicate quickly about it — and then exercise reasonable care around inmate possessions.
    That's no matter how crazy it seems that anyone doing time needs a cool pair of shades.
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