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Sheriff’s office counters criticism with numbers

The Jackson County Jail was built in 1981. Mail Tribune file photo.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office this week released jail population numbers with an array of offense descriptions. Public responses with pieces of misinformation about the jail’s function and operations were posted after a somewhat related social media entry by law enforcement.

JCSO posted to Facebook Thursday about its Top Five Chronic Failure to Appear Offenders, a newly reestablished program to pull in suspects who haven’t fulfilled required court dates. Even though all of the suspects who made the list are wanted in court for at least some drug related offenses, the jail population is composed of suspects accused of a diverse range of offenses.

And the jail itself is quite full, having reached its limit of inmates. What’s different is the large number of inmates within the total population count awaiting trial for serious criminal charges.

On Sept. 27, there were 253 adult offenders being held in the jail. Of those, 93 offenders fell within the state’s Measure 11 offense guidelines: 22 suspects held who are accused of murder and 35 suspects held on a variety of sex offenses alone, according to the sheriff’s office.

Rounding out the Measure 11 inmate total that day were six attempted-murderer suspects, three manslaughter suspects and 27 suspects who come under the wider category “other serious crime.”

More than half of the offenders in the jail can’t be released before their trials because of the seriousness of the crimes for which they are accused.

“Trials can take months or even years for more serious crimes," said Aaron Lewis, Public Information Officer of the JCSO.

While the jail holds people suspected of serious crimes it has also been where those who have commited lesser offenses are assigned to serve out their sentences within their communities.

“Every Measure 11 inmate in our maxed-out capacity jail means there is one less bed for someone with low-level charges,” Lewis said. “We simply do not have the space to allow local jail sentences to be served.”

Only two inmates at the jail were there serving sentences for low-level nuisance offenses on the day chosen by the JCSO.

Further complicating matters is that the COVID-19 pandemic has required the JCSO to reduce the number of inmates to about 250 so the people there can keep a safe distance from one another and be much less likely to spread the virus to those around them.

Pre-COVID maximum occupancy in the jail is about 300 people, he explained.

The result is that those lawbreakers who are chronic but low-level offenders “end up on the streets,” Lewis said.

Sometimes that determination about what happens to these people occurs in court. But the responsibility can also fall on high-ranking JCSO staff, who are asked to identify risks of releasing people in the custody of sheriff’s deputies.

And, as more jail beds are occupied by people suspected of very serious crimes, those arrested for less serious crimes at a given time are released.

This has resulted in those releases “becoming riskier,” he emphasized. “But there’s no choice.”

Reach reporter Terri Harber at 541-776-4468 or email tharber@rosebudmedia.com.