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Inmates released based on risk to community

How is the decision made on who is jailed and who is released? It seems that some people with serious charges are released on their own recognizance, while people with lower charges are held with or without bail.

— Paul, Medford

We reached out to Capt. Dan Penland with the Jackson County Sheriff's Office, who oversees operations at the Jackson County Jail.

Courts, community justice and the jail all have a say in who is or isn't released. Bail amounts are uniformly set by the state, but the amount can be adjusted by a judge. In most cases, the offender can post 10 percent of the bail amount and be released. 

Penland said that when inmates are booked into the jail, they are assessed for risks such as their probability of re-offending, probability of appearing in court as scheduled and general risk to the community. 

"They get assigned a number from 1 to 6," Penland said. Factors include an inmate's community ties, such as a job, a home or a family in the area, as well as the inmate's criminal history.

Low-risk inmates from 1-3 are automatically released, Penland said, even if the jail isn't at its capacity of 230 inmates. Penland said low-risk inmates are less likely to leave the area.

When the jail is at capacity, jail staff release the inmate with the lowest risk number, regardless of how long the inmate was lodged at the jail.

“We’re always releasing the person with the lowest risk that we can,” Penland said.

Some inmates are exempt from release consideration, such as those charged with Measure 11 crimes, sexual offenses, those serving a court-imposed sentence or those who have charges pending in U.S. District Court.

Penland said there are overrides in the system, as well. For example, if police detectives believe a low-risk offender has additional charges coming, a shift supervisor can keep the inmate in custody, even if it means releasing another inmate instead.

Sometimes inmate releases force staff to make the better of two bad decisions, but Penland said the number is based on analysis, not "pulled out of thin air."

"We don't like having to release some of the people we have to," Penland said.

—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. To see a collection of columns, go to mailtribune.com/youasked. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.