After a $2.7 million remodeling project, a new section of the Jackson County Jail built to house 62 more inmates is open for business.
Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters cut the ribbon on the two new wings in the jail's basement Monday morning. The remodeling adds 9,881 square feet to the jail's total size and brings its capacity to 292 inmates.
Jail officials said the new beds will reduce the number of forced releases because of overcrowding. In 2013, nearly 5,000 of the 11,482 offenders lodged in the jail were quickly released because of space constraints.
"As everybody knows, the jail has been overcrowded," said jail commander Lt. Dan Penland. "These will provide some relief to us. We're hoping to keep our population down to where we can significantly cut any forced releases from the facility."
Jail construction was paid for with Jackson County capital projects dollars, without dipping into the general fund, Sheriff's Department officials said.
Despite the need for more jail space for local offenders, the county will rent a portion of the beds to the federal government. But county officials say there's a logic to that decision: The money received from the feds will provide funding to operate the expanded jail.
County Administrator Danny Jordan said after the ribbon cutting that the county has a $1.2 million annual contract with the federal government for jail space. He said various federal agencies are using an average of 23 beds.
Many of those beds were formerly being rented from Josephine County, Jordan said, but the agencies prefer to be in Medford where the federal court is located.
Jordan said some of the new space will also be used for a drug treatment program and some treatments beds will be made available to neighboring counties. That is expected to bring in $500,000 annually.
The new revenue will more than cover the cost of operating the new space, Jordan said. Seven corrections deputies have been added to the jail payroll to staff the new jail pods.
Winters praised the county's board of commissioners, budget committee and Jordan for their support in completing the new space.
"They're the ones that are truly making this a safer place," Winters said.
The jail's new east wing will hold 24 inmates, who will be housed in six four-person cells. The west wing will hold an additional 32 prisoners in a dormitory-style space with six separation cells. There will also be six one-person cells in a lockdown area for inmates with mental health issues or those who need to be isolated from the rest of the jail's population.
"We're hoping to keep it low-level offenders, those that are low-risk, low-risk to the staff, low-risk for causing problems," Penland said of the new wings. "A good portion of them we hope will be involved in some type of drug and alcohol treatment program that we're going to start providing, something we haven't provided for a few years. This is going to allow us to do that."
The expansion includes a multi-purpose room for inmates needing medical attention. The room also will be used for video arraignments with Jackson County Circuit Court judges.
Construction on the expansion started after the Sheriff's Department moved its offices from the jail basement to its new headquarters on Highway 62 in June 2012. The former office space in the basement was gutted and rebuilt as additional jail space.