DA: Sex offender on probation has 50 months hanging over his head

Lane County District Attorney Alex Gardner sent this message regarding Albert Golden to media organizations in Lane County, Oregon, on April 25, 2013.

I'm writing to clarify some persistent confusion concerning the disposition in the Albert Golden sex abuse case.

Mr. Golden, seventy years old, recently entered guilty pleas to two counts of Sex Abuse in the Third Degree and two counts of Attempted Sex Abuse in the First Degree for the sexual touching of several young girls who assisted him in his home. He was sentenced to probation, with credit for the jail time he had already served PLUS an additional 50 month prison sentence hanging over his head if and when he fails probation.

Mr. Golden has a long list of physical and medical challenges. He is unable to walk, requires significant assistance to get in or out of his wheelchair, and has to wear a helmet while in his wheelchair, because he's prone to fall from the chair and injure himself. A recent fall in the Lane County jail required extremely expensive medical intervention. (Under Oregon law, Lane County must bear any costs associated with the medical care of inmates in its care.

According to Mr. Golden's defense attorney, Golden's physical challenges, injuries and recent hospital care interfered with his ability to prepare for trial, so trial was going to be delayed. Such a delay would have resulted in Mr. Golden continuing to occupy one of only 135 local jail beds remaining in the Lane County jail.

Lane County is already releasing thousands of offenders from jail, including hundreds charged with Measure-11 sex offenses or other serious violent crimes. Every bed we use is a bed that isn't available for the next dangerous offender we arrest, so we have a constant triage process designed to minimize risk to our citizens and community. With approximately 18,000 annual entries into the Lane County jail, and only 135 beds available for local offenders, the triage process spins like a Cuisinart. That's an obvious and unavoidable consequence of having less than one-fifth of the average local jail capacity. (See attached graph)

The situation continues to worsen, but this isn't new news.

Like all plea negotiations, the disposition in Mr. Golden's case was a compromise intended to serve the needs of justice while mitigating risk of further injury to the defendant's victims or other members of our community.

It is inaccurate to continue saying, "Golden was released, so the County wouldn't have to pay for expensive continuing medical treatment."

There were more than a dozen reasons for this disposition, including the following:

  • Plea negotiation ensured conviction and closure for the young victims,

  • Defendant's acts, though terrible and reprehensible, were less aggravated than those committed by many others charged with the same offenses.

  • Defendant had lived crime-free for almost thirty years prior to committing these crimes

  • Defendant's physical deterioration rendered him much less of a continuing community threat

  • There are other means of effectively protecting the community from this offender

  • Forcing trial would have resulted in the continuing loss of a local jail bed that would otherwise be used to hold a more dangerous offender: continuing to hold this offender would have increased net community safety risk.

  • There is value for recovering victims in knowing the defendant admitted what he did to them.

  • No single reason drove this decision: like all plea negotiations, this one was the result of balancing all the risks, benefits and other considerations.

    Lane County is regularly forced to release Measure-11 offenders Oregon law requires us to keep in jail. The Sheriff has no good option, because a federal court order prohibits Lane County from exceeding 93% of operational jail capacity, and our jail capacity is inadequate to comply with Oregon law. What can you do when you are ordered to hold ten pounds of sand in a two pound bag? You release eight pounds of sand. The Sheriff's office makes its forced release decisions using a validated risk assessment tool designed to minimize risk to the community. There is no better option.

    Medical expenses are a significant part of the total cost of any corrections operation that is required to hold felons. Lane County contracts for medical services for inmates, so we are all aware of the adverse impact of increasing medical service costs on a dwindling budget, but cost is just one of many factors steering our decision-making. The overarching public safety objectives are justice and the protection of our community; serving these objectives is our highest priority. In this case, when the defendant's criminal behavior, criminal record and future threat-risk were balanced against alternatives including County resources and imminent risks posed by other criminals, we found our best balance of justice and community safety in the disposition we chose.