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New jail still needed

Marion County’s jail commander says his county’s efforts to keep mentally ill people out of jail have been successful, and could be here as well. He also says Jackson County still needs a new jail. He’s right on both counts.

Marion County created a 24-hour mental health crisis center. The county also has paired law enforcement with therapists, helping to reduce the number of jail bookings.

Jackson County could benefit from a similar approach. But that won’t eliminate the need for a new jail.

Opponents of Jackson County’s jail proposal will point to Marion County’s 415-bed jail and say, why does Jackson County need to replace its 315-bed jail, when Marion County gets by with 415 beds and a population of 341,000, while Jackson County’s population is only 217,000?

For one thing, Marion County’s jail is a more modern design, allowing more space for treatment programs than is possible in the jail here. For another, Marion County’s jail, like ours, exceeds capacity on daily basis and must conduct forced releases of inmates. That was part of the incentive to reduce bookings. Jackson County has taken steps to do that as well, with some success, but it’s not enough.

Calls for addressing the “root causes of crime” can create the false impression that all jail inmates are mentally ill or addicted to drugs, or both. Many are simply criminals, and need to be confined to protect the public. Addressing mental illness is vitally important, but while it may reduce jail bookings, it won’t eliminate crime.