25 years celebrated at Inverness Jail

And, get a sneak peek at technology that will ease communications, both for inmates and staff …

Here, at the Multnomah County Inverness Jail, officials and staff members celebrate 25 years of service to the community (and incarcerations of inmates).

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Both former and current deputies join command staff, assembled in the multipurpose room at the Multnomah County Inverness Jail (MCIJ) on October 31, to mark the 25th anniversary of this outer East Portland detention facility.

At a mid-day ceremony, Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) officials recalled that MCIJ was designed as a medium-security adult corrections facility providing proper custody, control, and supervision, for county, state, and federal inmates in Multnomah County.

When the jail campus just off NE 122nd Avenue opened in 1988, it provided 210 jail beds. Over the last 25 years, the facility has undergone several remodels to accommodate additional jail beds and two different expansions – increasing the jail’s capacity to the current 1,037 available jail beds, of which 862 are currently funded and in operation at the facility.

At the observance, Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton talks with a retired staff member.

“Today, we’re celebrating many of the people who actually put this together,” said Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton after the official ceremony,

While they’ve not counted how many inmates have been through MCIJ during those two-and-a-half decades, “It continues to be a good facility,” Staton told East Portland News. “The key thing is that this has protected the public all these years. And it has also protected our staff – you can’t ask for more.”

Station called over former MCIJ Facility Commander Warren Cook, one of the featured guest speakers during the event, who shared his experiences and knowledge about the construction of the facility.

“This man, he was a MCSO Captain then, Warren Cook was one of the major contributors to this building. He put his heart into this building,” lauded Staton.

Retired MCSO Captain Warren Cook and Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton share a moment at the 25th anniversary celebration of Inverness Jail.

With a slight blush, retired MCSO Captain Warren Cook said, “I’m humbled by Sheriff Station’s words.”

The old Rocky Butte Jail, wasn’t atop Rocky Butte, as many people erroneously believe, he reminded. “What’s on top of the butte are the remains of Hill Military Academy. The old jail was located between Rocky Butte and City of Maywood Park, where Interstate 205 now runs. I was the last Commander of Rocky Butte Jail.”

Sheriff Fred Pearce, who held the office at that time, assigned Cook to work with the architect and lead a small team of staffers to design the building. “Then during construction, we went through processes of training the staff to transition to the new jail. Sheriff Pearce said we would open in October that year – and in fact, on October 31, 1988, we opened.”

Retired Multnomah County Sheriff Bob Skipper also attended the event. “I took over MCSO Corrections in 1981. At that time, we were running Rocky Butte Jail and four other facilities, including the Courthouse Jail.  We were in the process of completing the Justice Center.”

During the celebratory program, he recalled the high quality of the staff who contributed to the new jail project. “This included everyone, from the corrections officers to the nursing staff, facility staff, correction laundry, and maintenance – they all sat down around the table and plan the building out.”

Retired Multnomah County Sheriff Bob Skipper recalls some of the concern about the change to their style of jail operations, as the Inverness Jail opened.

Detailed design, planning, and training, were necessary because the MCSO Corrections Division was transitioning to a different style of jail operations, Skipper explained.

“It was patterned after the Contra Costa, California, jail system. I flew down there to learn, first hand, how their system of what we now call ‘direct supervision’ worked. There was a lot of apprehension about this.

“In the older models of running a jail,” Skipper continued, “Inmates were in cells or in a common area, and were watched by jail guards from a walkway – with little interface between guards and inmates. Under ‘direct supervision’, personnel are in close contact with inmates.”

MCSO Lt. Pool cuts the celebratory cake to mark the Inverness Jail’s 25 years.

The benefit of this model, as Skipper explained, is, “It’s a more humane way to deal with inmates. And, we actually found that the inmates were generally more subdued, because they had an open environment. They weren’t ‘locked down’ all the time. This promotes better accountability with inmates.

“It was not uncommon that if a corrections officer got overpowered, other inmates would jump in and help them out, because they respected the corrections officers,” Skipper said.

Sheriff Staton and Skipper agreed with Cook, who commented, “One thing that was said here today that was absolutely right, is that the people who work here are like family.  They continue to be your family well after you’ve moved on. It’s nice to keep up with the folks about what’s going on.”

MCSO Public Information Officer Lt. Steve Alexander demonstrates a model of the new inmate kiosk system being installed in the jail facilities.

New inmate-oriented technology unveiled
Also, at the celebration, MCSO Public Information Officer Lt. Steve Alexander showed East Portland News new communication technology being rolled out in the jails.

“Over the next 18 months, we’ll be introducing new ‘kiosk technology’,” Alexander said.

“These will provide digital delivery of some of our services to the dorms here at Inverness Jail, as well as an MCDC. The main thing is we will be able to increase the efficiencies of our operations by allowing inmates to place commissary orders, submit a request for medical services, or make similar requests.”

Under the current paper-based system, Alexander said, an inmate fills out paper forms, and submits them to the office. Then, a staff person takes the paper form and enters the data into the computer system. “In essence, the inmate will do their own data entry. This will both speed up the delivery of those services for them – and help the jail contain costs.”

Eventually, there will be an Internet portal through which friends or relatives of inmates will be able to speak with them from a home computer, instead of signing up and coming in for a visit.

“Whether [visitors] come here and visit using a lobby kiosk, or do it through an Internet connection at home, they will have the same experience. This will increase the amount of access to the inmates.”

And, Alexander added, eventually family members will be able to make deposits into inmates’ accounts, and inmates will be able to see and control the transactions in their accounts.

Congratulations to the men and women of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, and thanks from the community for the safety services they provide.

© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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