Officials: Voters seeing return on jail invesment

Added space is keeping criminals off the street and ending "revolving-door cases"
News Editor
   March 20, 2002 — Local law enforcement officials say voters are now receiving a return on the investment they made in the Jefferson County Jail.
   It took county voters three times to approve operating funds for the jail, but today more criminals are being kept off the streets and there’s still space for more in the jail
   “Little by little we’re picking up people with warrants,” said Jefferson County Sheriff Jack Jones. “We used to arrest people on warrants, bring them in and then have to let them go.”
   The jail’s old location, in the basement of the courthouse, had 16 beds and could hold a maximum of 32 inmates. The new facility, by comparison, can hold up to 160 when at full capacity.
   In November, the sheriff’s office moved 18 inmates it had lodged at the old 8,000-square-foot basement facility into the new 37,000-square-foot building at 675 N.W. Cherry Lane. Since then, inmate numbers have grown to roughly 60, said Lt. Tony Lewis, the jail manager.
   “My speculation is that with the new jail, we’re preventing people from doing that fourth and fifth crime before they go to jail on the first one,” Jones said.
   Elsewhere in the criminal justice system, officials are saying the increased space is netting results.
   District Attorney Peter Deuel said the jail has led to a reduction in “revolving-door cases.”
   “I believe that having the ability to hold someone in jail has increased the accountability for the court system,” Deuel said.
   He said more individuals appear in court while in custody, which helps move cases along more swiftly.
   “Jail space allows us to hold individuals who are at risk for not appearing for future dates or are a risk to public safety,” Deuel said. “The jail is doing the job that we believed that it could do for the community.”
   Because of the way money from the $5.4 million, five-year operating levy is collected, the jail is budgeted to hold a maximum of 75 inmates this fiscal year.
   On July 1, the county will have enough money for additional staff to support an inmate population of 90.
   Funding for the jail costs 91 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or $91 in taxes for someone who owns a $100,000 home.
   “That’s a big statement for a county our size,” Jones said. “The community has said, ‘We’re serious about this.’”
   Crook County is currently renting 12 beds, which will generate $146,000 by the end of this fiscal year for Jefferson County, Jones said. The increased space also is generating more money from bail payments, Jones said.
   Kim Perkins, supervisor with Jefferson County Adult Community Justice, known more commonly as the parole and probation office, said the additional jail space has acted as a deterrent that has allowed the office to offer more stringent sanctions.
   “We seem to be having more people show up for work crew than they did,” Perkins said. “People weren’t doing their work crew and they weren’t being sanctioned for it because there were no beds available.”
   Madras Chief of Police Enes Smith said the jail space has given judges a lot more latitude, too.
   “The old jail used to be full with people serving sentences and there was absolutely nowhere to put new people, no matter how serious their crimes were.”
   The jail is currently staffed by 19 people: five technicians, one cook, 12 sheriff’s deputies, Lt. Lewis and a maintenance person. Those numbers will grow each fiscal year as the county receives more money. The old jail was staffed by eight corrections officers.
   Jones said the transition from the old jail to the new one has not been without its rough spots, but the jail staff, at least, has gone from “long face to happy face.”
   Some businesses in the industrial park have complained that those released from the jail have been a nuisance.
   “We told them, ‘If you want to buy a thousand dollar hay compressor, sure, but don’t walk into a business and bum cigarettes,’” Jones said. “But there’s little you can do to someone once they’re released.”
   However, Jones said, the sheriff’s office has eliminated many of those problems with the addition of a pay phone by the jail’s front door. He said inmates are told before they’re released that they will be arrested for trespassing if they disturb the businesses.
   The total annual budget of the new jail is $1.6 million, while the old jail operated on about a $500,000 budget.
   In November 1998, voters approved money for construction of the jail but not the funds to operate it. In May 2000, voters again rejected its operating levy before finally approving it in November of that same year.
   Jones said some crucial programs yet to be implemented at the new facility will come in time with additional funds, like the home-monitoring and work-release programs.
   “Hopefully people will learn something here and won’t feel like people are just being warehoused,” Jones said.