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MailTribune.com
  • Changes designed to keep more prisoners locked up

    Law enforcement officials hope that additional jail beds and new procedures will cut down on truancy
  • If you do the crime, you may not do the time in Jackson County.
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    • Jail lodgings and forced releases
      Total lodged Forced releases Percent released
      2010 9,605 1,312 14
      2011 10,635 2,409 23
      2012 11,794 4,766 40
      2013 11,482 4,956 43

      A snapshot of arrests and failures to appear from...
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      Jail lodgings and forced releases
      Total lodged Forced releases Percent released

      2010 9,605 1,312 14

      2011 10,635 2,409 23

      2012 11,794 4,766 40

      2013 11,482 4,956 43

      A snapshot of arrests and failures to appear from Feb. 25 to March 25:

      Total arrests 994

      Number of failures to appear 257

      Percentage of failures to appear 26 percent

      Medford police have seen a 156 percent increase in fugitive warrants for failure to appear over two years.

      Year Warrants

      2012 2,108

      2013 5,400
  • If you do the crime, you may not do the time in Jackson County.
    Criminals have figured out that the Jackson County Jail has run out of space, and they may spend little, if any, time behind bars.
    In 2013, 43 percent of the 11,482 people lodged in jail were released almost as quickly as they were brought in because there was no room to house them.
    More than a quarter of scofflaws hauled into jail last month for crimes ranging from drugs to assault had failed to show up for court appearances in this county and others.
    Medford police have seen a 156-percent increase in the number of warrants issued for failure to appear from 2012 to 2013.
    "It is very frustrating having to deal with this catch-and-release system," Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau said. "The bottom line is there clearly is not enough room for the number of criminals we have."
    To put some of the sting back into jail time, the Jackson County Jail rolled out a pilot program a month ago that might cut down on those failing to appear for court and keep more high-risk prisoners behind bars.
    "We are releasing the best of the worst," said sheriff Lt. Dan Penland, jail commander.
    At the same time, the jail will add 62 new beds in April that will boost its capacity to 292 beds.
    "As the sheriff has said, 'The only deterrent to crime is an empty jail bed,' " Penland said.
    Under the new system, jail officials now assess each suspect to determine criminal history, community ties and the likelihood they might commit another offense.
    If they get a score of two or less, they will be considered low risk and could be released from jail. A score of three to four means medium risk, and a five to six is high risk for failure to appear in court.
    As a result, those with charges of assault, strangulation, endangering and menacing could be cut loose if they have no priors and have strong community ties, indicating they're likely to show up for their court date. Another suspect facing charges of disorderly conduct might remain in jail because of prior convictions, a lack of community ties and a history of failing to show up for court appearances.
    "We're trying something different," Penland said. "If it doesn't work, we will come up with a better plan."
    The jail previously assessed each suspect based on current charges, often cutting many loose who had multiple failures to appear.
    The jail previously listed the prisoners who were released to prevent overcrowding as "forced release." Now, prisoners are released because they are considered "low risk" or to prevent the jail from reaching its capacity of prisoners, referred to as a "cap" release.
    However, if the jail reaches its capacity, Penland said some high-risk offenders could still be released even under the new system.
    At any given moment, the jail has a large number of prisoners who can't be let out, which means there's less space for newcomers.
    By law, the jail must hold those suspected of Measure 11 crimes. Also, domestic violence suspects are held for 12 hours to allow for a cooling-off period.
    A judge can order a prisoner who violated the rules of the drug court to remain in jail and not be subject to the new release policy.
    On Friday, the jail had 31 federal prisoners and 11 immigration holds. The jail receives money from the federal government to house these prisoners.
    For the community, it is difficult to imagine letting someone loose for charges such as assault or theft, though it happens every day, Penland said.
    "I'm sure to the public that looks scary," he said.
    Penland said he estimates that he would need a jail with about 600 beds to properly handle the number of prisoners in Jackson County.
    "It's a community problem," Penland said.
    Lack of jail beds is also a problem for the courts and the District Attorney's Office. Judges may sentence someone to 30 days in jail after his court hearing, but the jail may have to turn him loose because of the lack of jail beds.
    District Attorney Beth Heckert said it's too early to tell whether the new system will be effective.
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