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Jail cost increase a foregone conclusion

It’s no surprise that the projected cost of Jackson County’s much-needed new jail has increased since the spring. County officials have said all along that construction costs will continue upward, and the longer the project is delayed, the bigger the price tag.

That’s just one reason to move ahead with replacing the existing 38-year-old jail that has long been inadequate to serve the county’s growing population. The other reason is public safety.

After city councils in Talent and Ashland refused to allow their residents to vote on a proposed service district to operate build and operate the new jail, Sheriff Nathan Sickler vowed to try again to get a county-wide measure on the ballot, this one aimed the May 2020 election. Sickler and County Administrator Danny Jordan told county commissioners this week that the projected cost is now $170.3 million, up from $166 million just a few months ago.

Talent and Ashland council members expressed opposition to the idea that locking up more people is the answer to the substance abuse, mental illness, homelessness and economic opportunity issues that are among the root causes of crime. But that ignores the fact that a 315-bed jail, originally built to serve a county of 134,546, already was overcrowded in 1985, when a court-ordered population cap began the forced releases that continue to this day. The county is now home to 215,000 people.

If drug addiction, mental illness and the rest were the only issues, treatment centers could and should address them. But the problem is the crimes that are committed against persons and property that result from those root causes. The public deserves to be protected, and a modern jail large enough to keep people inside longer than a few hours can also offer the substance abuse and mental health treatment arrestees need to break the cycle.

If all county residents are allowed to vote on the proposed funding and it is approved, everyone in the county will share in the cost. That’s the only fair way to address an issue that affects everyone.

The alternative is to continue the revolving door that puts criminals back on the street as fast as police can arrest them.