Editorials from around Oregon

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

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The East Oregonian, Oct. 15, on getting flu shots:

Imagine if every year the U.S. military suffered thousands of causalities in some foreign conflict.

It is a difficult and chilling scenario. Fortunately, no such war exists, but every year seasonal flu and its complications send people to the hospital and kill many more.

In this day and age, we tend to focus on diseases that grab headlines and generate fear but are tucked into remote jungle regions. Ebola continues even now to burn through portions of the Congo. Yet we forget that seasonal influenza is a dangerous and routine malady that rolls through our midst.

The flu is no joke. It can kill and often does, but there is a time-tested method to avoid it.

Taking the time out to get a flu shot isn't just a minor inconvenience. It is a critical part of keeping not only yourself safe but also your friends and family and others you may not even know.

As far as Mother Nature goes, influenza is a perfect virus. Easily spread, it infects people with ease. When someone infected coughs, sneezes or even talks, the virus can be inhaled into the lungs. From there the virus spreads and brings on the all-too-familiar symptoms of the flu.

About 8% of the U.S. population is infected by the virus each year.

Flu can also create severe complications, including pneumonia and other infections.

The annual cost of flu is also steep. Estimates place a price tag of more than $9 billion a year in costs connected to hospital stays and visits to the doctor because of the virus. That is not counting, by the way, the number of days missed from work by those who are struck down by the virus.

That is why getting a flu shot now is so important. Generally, acquiring a flu shot isn't expensive and it is a fast, efficient way to avoid the sickness.

Get your flu shot either from your primary care provider or by visiting the county health department. Pharmacies in grocery stores and drug stores often provide vaccines as well.

No one likes to get sick and certainly no one wants to spend seven to 10 days at home fighting off the flu virus. But modern medicine offers all of us a way to avoid the flu.

Don't mess around with the flu. Get your flu shot. A short time out during the day to get the vaccine will pay off down the road.

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The Medford Mail-Tribune, Oct. 13, on criminal punishment including treatment and jail time:

Objections to building a new county jail because locking people up doesn't address the root causes of crime misses the point. So does the argument that punishing addicts with jail time for drug possession alone is counterproductive. Of course it is. The problem isn't drug possession, its crimes against people and property committed by drug users who either won't seek treatment on their own or won't stick with it because there are no consequences for dropping out.

Treatment services are vitally important, and should be increased. That includes treatment services inside the jail. But the existing jail is far too small for the county's population, so many arrestees are released within hours because of overcrowding, so they are not in custody long enough to receive any drug treatment.

Those offenders who are given probationary sentences with the requirement that they undergo drug treatment know they are unlikely to spend much time behind bars even if they violate the terms of their probation. So they have no incentive to comply because there are no consequences.

Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler recognizes the need for more treatment services, but he also knows that stand-alone treatment without a functioning jail won't work for criminal offenders.

"You can build it," he says. "They will not come."

Sickler is also a fan of alternative sentencing approaches designed to keep offenders out of jail, such as work-release programs, electronic monitoring devices and the like. But those methods are less effective if the offender knows there is no real threat of going to jail because there is no room.

Detailed plans have not yet been drafted for the treatment and counseling services a new jail would provide, but Sickler has a vision of a range of support for those in custody, including Certified Mental Health Professionals, transition coordinators to help inmates successfully move back into the community, and Medication Assisted Treatment for addicts who need help getting off drugs.

The county jail does not hold people serving long sentences for crime; those people go to state prisons. In fact, only one or two people in the 315-bed jail are serving sentences at any given time. Most of the rest are awaiting trial, and some are being held because they violated the terms of their parole or probation.

Sickler describes the jail as "a short-term chance for intervention" — if it is adequate to meet the need. A safe community depends on a functional jail that keeps offenders off the streets and out of your neighborhood, rather than a revolving door that sends them back out almost as soon as they are arrested.

Crime statistics back that up. The existing jail was expanded to add 60 beds in the basement in 2014. But in 2015, the basement addition was closed for lack of staffing, and crime reports increased. In Medford, Part 1 and 2 crimes rose 23% in 2016, the first full year without the extra beds. Part 1 crimes include murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and theft. Part 2 crimes include drug cases, lower-level assaults, DUII, vandalism and disorderly conduct.

In 2017, when the basement beds reopened for part of the year, those crimes dropped 4%, and fell an additional 15% in 2018.

No one is suggesting that jail cells should take the place of drug treatment and counseling. Just as treatment programs by themselves will not solve the problem of crime, jail cells without treatment won't either.

The answer is an integrated system, offering treatment to those who will accept it, requiring criminal offenders to participate and holding out the real consequence of jail if they don't.

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The Eugene Register-Guard, Oct. 13, on community vigilance against sex trafficking:

Sex trafficking is a lucrative $2 billion a year industry in the United States that preys on the vulnerable and hopeless. It may seem far away from places like Eugene and Springfield — but, sadly, it is not.

"It happens here and at shocking rates. If you think that you haven't directly come in contact with somebody who's been trafficked, you're kidding yourself," said Tamara LeRoy, who also serves as the trafficking intervention coordinator for Sexual Assault Support Services, or SASS.

The Register-Guard has been examining the impact of sex trafficking in Lane County in a multipart series. Shedding light on this problem is important. Victims are often hesitant to speak out because of the shame and stigma associated with such sexual exploitation. It is a topic often avoided in polite society.

But that avoidance gives traffickers room to do their work — too much room.

Sex trafficking is defined by the U.S. State Department as when a person engages in a commercial sex act by force, threats of force, fraud, coercion or any combination of those.

In Oregon, more than 100 sex trafficking cases were reported in 2018. That number is almost certainly a dramatic undercount of actual sex trafficking activity.

"There are a number of organizations like (Kids FIRST) that are spending a lot of money and time tracking this information, and even then it's hard to find," said Sarah Stewart, executive director of Kids FIRST, a Lane County child advocacy group. "We're working on making sure that the groups that we're working with are tracking data in a similar way. If we're all tracking different data, then we're not getting substantive samples."

Interstate 5, the nearly 1,400-mile-long interstate running from Mexico to Canada, is a major sex-trafficking corridor, according to law enforcement officials — though not all victims are relocated by their trafficker.

Parents may think of sex trafficking as something that happens to other people's children — runaways, kids with drug problems, etc. But sex traffickers are adept at recruiting all sorts of children, and parents need to be vigilant.

How can parents be pro-active? For one, actively monitor what your children are doing online and talk frankly about safety, their online presence and the risks they face.

"Right now (social media) is a very large platform that the kids in our community use and the traffickers do a lot of their recruiting through social media," said Curtis Newell, a Eugene police detective. "I get there's a fine balance between spying on your kid, but at the same time, if they fall into the hands of these traffickers that's not a good situation for them to be in."

Awareness is truly key. "If parents don't know what their kids are doing online, then they would have no idea if this was starting in their child's life," said Sara Jensen, a victim advocate for the Lane County District Attorney's Office. "And so when people say, 'Well, this doesn't happen here, it wouldn't happen to my child,' it's sort of like, well, do you know what your child is doing online, because that's where it can start."

Homeless and runaway teens are more vulnerable, and the community needs to work together as a whole to protect them. If you see something out of the ordinary with a kid on a street corner or at a gas station, notify law enforcement.

"Lane County has a significant runaway and homeless youth population, a vulnerable group that is easily targeted and, because of the clandestine nature of the industry, is underreported," said Florence Mackey, a victim specialist for the Salem, Eugene and Medford FBI offices. "There are limited resources to support child trafficking victims and addressing the needs of a sex trafficking victim is a complex issue."

Sex trafficking doesn't always look the way it's portrayed in movies and on television. We all need to be vigilant and aware of what's happening, not just in our families, but in our community. If you see someone or something suspicious, don't hesitate to report it to law enforcement. The Lane County Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Multidisciplinary Team (ecaseylane.org) would be a good place to start.

As we've said before, it's also important for the community to remember that the individuals forced into sex trafficking are the victims. Survivors should not be shamed or shunned. The community should work to bring them back — and prevent the victimization of others.