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Josephine County accelerates sentences to avoid jail releases

GRANTS PASS — Faced with a shrinking jail capacity because taxpayers voted down a tax increase, judges in Josephine County managed to get a dozen jail inmates sentenced and on their way to state prison before they had to be released from jail.

District Attorney Stephen Campbell said Tuesday that judges took an extra day last week to hand out sentences in cases where defendants already had pleaded guilty.

Sheriff Gil Gilbertson says many of the prisoners would have had to be let out before sentencing as the jail cuts back from about 120 beds to just 60 in coming days.

"We just don't want people on the streets who don't belong on the streets," said Gilbertson. "We want to keep this community safe as we can as long as we can."

Among the estimated 40 inmates to be released in coming weeks will be people charged with third-degree rape and sodomy, child neglect, endangering the welfare of a minor, encouraging child sex abuse, assault, robbery, drug possession and various property crimes, the sheriff's office said. Their names and mugshots will be posted on the sheriff's website.

Earlier this month, voters emphatically turned down a $12 million a year levy to fund law enforcement and plug a budget gap left by the expiration of a federal subsidy for timber counties. Sheriff's patrols, the district attorney's office, parole and probation supervision, and juvenile justice all face deep cuts in coming weeks as the county seeks to balance its budget.

Meanwhile, the numbers off people applying for licenses to carry a concealed handgun have skyrocketed, with many saying they were concerned about their safety since the levy failed.

Lane County is facing similar cuts.

Campbell said he and the sheriff went to the judges and asked that all cases that could be wrapped up be handled before four prosecutors had to be laid off and the jail capacity cut back.

"We also did look at some people in there and sweeten their plea offers a little bit so they could get their cases done," Campbell said.

Campbell said he has instituted a new policy of not prosecuting most misdemeanor charges, but did not want to say what they were, for fear of alerting criminals. He said he was continuing to prosecute some drunken driving, third-degree sex abuse and resisting arrest charges.