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Sheriff’s posts highlight inmate releases

Jackson County leads state in releasing inmates due to overcrowding
The Jackson County Jail has released more than 30,000 inmates over the past six years due to overcrowding, far more than any other county in Oregon, according to Sheriff Nate Sickler. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office is taking to social media to highlight its jail capacity crunch — and the suspects who must be released from jail in a one-in, one-out system.

The jail released 12 inmates Tuesday due to overcrowding, and it released another nine Wednesday.

The sheriff’s office wants people to know how many people it is releasing, and it also wants the public to know details about criminal charges faced by those it lets out.

On Tuesday, the sheriff’s office said on its Facebook page, “Beginning Wednesday, June 29th, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office will provide updates on social media showing a snapshot of the people recently released from the Jackson County Jail due to overcrowding.”

The sheriff’s posts Tuesday and Wednesday did not name the inmates it let out, but it listed arrests and warrants tied to those inmates. Those released this week showed a variety of misdemeanor charges ranging from disorderly conduct, fourth-degree assault, trespassing and harassment to failing to appear in court on earlier charges such as reckless burning.

According to numbers provided by Jackson County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Aaron Lewis, the county leads the state in forced jail releases due to overcrowding. It attributes the overcrowding numbers to a facility built in 1981 not adequately sized for the county’s population.

Between 2016 and 2021, 43.7% of the 72,023 individuals booked in the jail over the past six years were released because of overcrowding.

“Some of these folks, if we had a healthier jail system where we had more beds available, they would certainly be waiting until their trial date,” Lewis said, adding that then it would be up to courts to decide when to release an inmate.

Lewis said the reports, posted to Facebook and Instagram several times per week, will be released as a matter of transparency and to combat misconceptions swirling on social media about who gets released.

“We want to show that it’s a wide range of people,” Lewis said, adding that jail staff try to select inmates for early release who have a “lower risk of harm for the community.”

Jackson County released 30,900 from 2016 through 2021 due to overcrowding, more than double any other Oregon county jail.

The next highest number was in Marion County, which had 14,930 forced releases over the same six years, making up 19.8% of 75,032 bookings.

Clackamas County had 13,594 releases in that time period, 17.8% of 81,727 bookings. Lane County had 13,598 releases, 15.6% of 86,997 bookings. Washington County had 5,473 releases, 6.5% of 84,160 jail bookings.

Deschutes County, whose jail was built in 1994 with a capacity of 452 beds, had no forced releases over the past six years out of 37,005 jail bookings.

A Special Grand Jury audit conducted Feb. 11 determined the 1981-built jail has a “jail space crisis,” and it made recommendations that the county increase its efforts to educate the public about it through “stronger social media presence, public outreach and overall marketing effort,” according to the county report made public March 30.

The county has averaged about 5,300 overcrowding releases a year over the past six years, but Lewis couldn’t say whether the number of releases are worsening. He cited protocols implemented after the COVID-19 pandemic that make it difficult to compare one year to another.

The jail typically has capacity for 300 inmates at any given time, but because the jail tries to quarantine new inmates to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the jail currently has “about 260 to 270” inmates.

Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTwebeditor.