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Code changes prevented planned jail floor additions

I read your article about discussion over a new jail building. I've lived here all my life, and it seems to me that when the present jail was designed, it was built with the idea that floors could be added later.

Has somebody overlooked that as a possibility? I'm sure I read it in the Tribune when construction first started.

— Don W., via phone message

Your memory's accurate, Don. Architects behind the Jackson County Jail facility built it in 1981 with the intention that it could be expanded with up to two additional floors.

Why hasn't expansion been on the table? Because building-code and earthquake standards changed shortly after the building was completed, according to a February 2006 article in which then-sheriff Mike Winters advocated for a new facility in a Corrections Grand Jury Report, an annual public audit of the facility.

"The jail was outdated the day they built it," Winters was quoted in 2006.

A basement level, converted from administration office space to add 62 beds, opened in 2014. Citing staffing concerns, former sheriff Corey Falls closed the facility in November 2015.

With staffing restored and employees current on their training, Sheriff Nathan Sickler reopened the basement April 24, restoring capacity to 292. Within a week, the jail was overcrowded again.

Jail overcrowding has been an ongoing concern over the years, Don. A 2002 article noted there were 9,456 inmates booked in the jail the year before, nearly double the 4,849 inmates booked in 1985.

The latest Corrections Grand Jury Report showed that in 2016, the number of people booked in the jail was 14,132. That's close to triple the 1985 numbers.

Oddly enough, overcrowding was what prompted the current facility's construction. The facility was completed in 1981 at a cost of $8 million, financed with O&C timber receipts.

Construction started in 1978 following an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit claiming conditions amounted to cruel and unusual punishment at the former jail atop the old Jackson County Courthouse.

— 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.