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Lack of space forces jail releases

I am a daily reader of your "emergency services" report, and I have noticed that I continue to see offenders who have been apprehended who have two or more instances of "failure to appear" warrants who are then released on their own recognizance after booking. Are our judges that naive? What do they think are the chances these people will actually show up next time? Is the public safe with all of these offenders walking around town?

— Rick L., email submission

Well Rick, the problem of "forced releases" from the Jackson County Jail has little to do with judges and everything to do with the lack of bed space. For almost four years, the county has struggled to deal with a lack of resources to house suspects and convicts in the jail.

Oregon law requires that suspects charged with Measure 11 sentences be held until trial. Beyond that, requirements for holding prisoners vary. Since 1997, Oregon law has required inmates sentenced to a year or less of incarceration to serve their time in the jail of the county where they were convicted. The bill dramatically increased the number of prisoners held in county jails, and as budgets grew strained, the number of available beds decreased. 

Those sentenced to jail time are typically released based on a matrix that compares a number of factors among inmates, including sentence length.

Suspects held in jail awaiting trial are often released to prevent the jail from reaching capacity, which could force the release of more violent offenders. In February, the jail rolled out a new program that makes release decisions based on criminal history, community ties and the likelihood that the suspect may re-offend or fail to show up for court. The suspects you refer to with warrants for failure to appear could have been released under the program because they were deemed "low risk."

Local officials are aware of the problem, Rick. Both of Sheriff Mike Winters' challengers in the 2014 election, Deputy Chief Corey Falls of the Ashland Police Department and Sheriff's Office Lt. Bob Sergi, have said they want to address forced releases, and Winters himself oversaw the addition of 62 new beds earlier this year.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.