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Jail oversights no easy matter

Hurried decisions too often turn out to be flawed, and that's likely to be the outcome if Multnomah County commissioners rush to the ballot in May with a proposal to take control of county jails.

We fully understand Multnomah County Chairman Ted Wheeler's frustration with the current operation of the jails. Sheriff Bernie Giusto has failed to provide forceful management to fix jail problems that range from abuse of overtime by employees to poor oversight of inmates.

But we don't believe that Wheeler's idea of taking the corrections department away from Giusto and placing it under the control of county commissioners has received - or can receive - the scrutiny required before May.

To date, there has been no real process or in-depth research for deciding the best way to manage the jails. Wheeler and other commissioners would be asking voters to trust that they would be better managers than an elected sheriff - but they would be unable to point to a body of evidence to support that conclusion.

Wheeler has argued that the deplorable oversight of the jails must be fixed if the county is to have any hopes of getting a public-safety levy approved in November.

But in all likelihood, if the commissioners proceed with the jail-takeover plan in May they simply will reinforce the public's impression that county government is dysfunctional and end up dashing hopes for the November levy.

Before asking citizens to support a new management system for county jails, Wheeler ought to concentrate his attention on ensuring that every conventional means possible to improve the jails has been instituted.

The county chairman should work with Giusto, District Attorney Michael Schrunk and others in county government to break down bureaucratic silos and address the jail problems that have been identified in grand jury reports and other investigations.

Meanwhile, the embattled Giusto may choose to retire long before a November public-safety levy vote.

If Wheeler is patient on that score, but determined and successful in requiring an overhaul of the jails, he can forgo a nasty battle over jail control in May and still get a new jail manager - in the form of an interim sheriff - before November.