Crook County Report Shows New Jail Required

PRINEVILLE, Ore. — Crook County’s Public Safety Advisory Committee presented conclusions from a report in late April that showed several convicted offenders in the county are currently free because of limited jail space in Prineville, and, therefore, building a new jail is the only solution to overcrowding.

Former Crook County Sheriff Jim Hensley recommended creating the committee last year to come up with a solution to the overcrowding. The committee is made up of 21 Crook County residents from varying backgrounds —none of which are public officials. The county jail currently has 16 beds and rents out 25 beds in the Jefferson County jail, located about 30 miles away. However, an average of 103 people per month were sentenced to jail time in Crook County between 2014 and 2015, according to the report.

In any given month, the lack of space at the county jail can mean that 70 to 90 people who are convicted of misdemeanors receive early release or completely avoid incarceration altogether, according to The Bulletin. Offenders are released to make room for others based on a matrix system that uses a list of criteria to determine who is the most eligible for release based on criminal history and the seriousness of the crime committed. The report showed that about 440 inmates were released early in 2015 based on this system.

The jail’s overcrowding issues, according to the report, even influence the local judges’ sentencing decisions. Plus, the facility is aging, has reached the end of its lifecycle and “is unsafe for staff and inmates,” the report stated.

Building a new jail with at least 70 beds is the only solution to the issue, according to the report. “The committee concluded the county is in need of new and expanded jail space,” the report stated. “Based on the condition of the current jail, combined with the implications of the jail space shortage, it is imperative that functional and adequate jail space be provided.”

The idea of building a new jail isn’t new to the county, after two bond measures meant to fund construction of a new facility failed more than 10 years ago. The report stated that any public bond measure to construct the new facility shouldn’t be more than $10 million. A “mix of funding sources” should be used to minimize the cost to taxpayers, the report suggested. Citizens will likely be asked to vote on the jail construction bond in November.