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Your view: County's jail proposal falls short

EDITOR’S NOTE: this was written in response to our Oct. 4 editorial.

In the mid-’70s I was the volunteer training coordinator for Help Line for a couple of years. I received crisis hotline training from mental health professionals at the state and county levels. My main task was to train phone volunteers to handle Help Line callers in crisis. Volunteers learned how to listen to callers, had knowledge of available mental health and other community resources and handled emergent suicide/drug-related crisis calls. The set of issues today is different in that there is a much larger population of homeless folks and more varied drug issues.

I share the concerns voiced by the Ashland City Council and the Talent officials who refused to participate in a new jail with a high price tag that misses the mark on addressing the root causes of crimes committed by those suffering from today’s set of issues: addiction, mental illness, homelessness and poor economic opportunities. Sheriff Nathan Sickler’s response that those in these populations “have access to” services through the Jackson County Community Justice Resource Center is a positive start, but it isn’t enough for what’s needed.

I spoke with Eric Guyer, community justice director, who explained the resources available upon release from jail. The center operates Monday through Friday, with releases occurring between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. It is staffed pretty regularly by outside agencies, such as Jackson County Mental Health and the Addictions Recovery Center (ARC), along with more spotty staffing for employment screening/referrals, housing referrals and other services.

Guyer explained that the center sees around 15 released individuals from Medford’s jail and a facility in Talent each day, Monday through Friday. Any help is better than none, but clearly more help is needed.

As it stands now, the new jail will simply provide a bigger box, with a bigger staffing budget, without addressing the needs outlined above. Instead, I’d like to see an expansion of the Community Resource Center model to be housed within the new jail building, with a friendlier environment and seven days a week (preferably 24/7) staff who actually provide services for this population. Ideally, inmates who “graduate” will be much better prepared to succeed in the community.

This I could get behind because it addresses directly the root causes of crime while the offender is in jail, before being released or referred on to supporting agencies. It could also help agencies operate more efficiently. I simply can’t support spending $170 million with the only goal being community protection because it simply kicks the can down the road until we find ourselves once again in the same situation as the town and population grows when we will need to build yet another larger incarceration box and its accompanying larger staffing budget. Six months ago Sickler had the opportunity to begin to collaborate with other agencies to rework the jail plan, but he didn’t. However, he still has time. Please, build the right solution to protect our community and help those suffering as well.

Doug McDonald lives in Medford.