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Sheriff's race: Thinking outside the bars

Both Sheriff Nathan Sickler and challenger Bill Froehlich agree that the 1981-built Jackson County Jail is overcrowded, but they differ in solutions headlining their campaigns.

Sickler said his primary focus is drawing support for replacing the outdated and cramped jail — a long-term solution costing at least $100 million, according to early estimates. Froehlich proposes adding prefabricated mobile units in the parking lot for $10 million or more each.

Calling the overcrowded jail the “weakest link of our criminal justice system,” Sickler said a new jail with 1,000 beds — more than triple the capacity of the current jail — would accommodate the county’s population growth for the next four decades. Sickler and Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan have said that each year construction is delayed, costs rise by 5 percent.

MORE ON THE SHERIFF'S RACE: Sickler, Froehlich vie for sheriff

The county commissioners Tuesday approved $6.56 million to buy land for the jail near the sheriff’s office, and Jordan has proposed a funding mechanism that would raise taxes by about 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, rather than the $1.09 originally proposed.

“We’re as close as we’ve ever been,” Sickler said.

Froehlich, who lives in the Gold Hill area, said he agrees that a new facility is in order in the long term, but the jail’s revolving door has persisted for more than 15 years, and more immediate measures are needed.

Froehlich’s solution is a 132-by-128-foot modular steel structure made from semitrailers that he said would cost roughly $10 million to $11 million and house about 120 inmates. Froehlich said as many as three of these prefabricated structures could fit in the jail’s parking lot.

“The public is fed up with the bleeding,” Froehlich said.

Sickler said he and his staff have looked into modulars, but the manufacturer can’t say for certain whether they meet Oregon’s strict standards for jails. Even if they did, the jail’s kitchen and laundry facilities couldn’t sustain the more than 25 percent added capacity, he said.

The sheriff’s office would still need a mechanism to fund and operate the temporary unit, Sickler said. Froehlich said he’d like to fund it using county reserve funds.

Froehlich said county residents he’s spoken with have conveyed a frustration that they’re being faced with no choice beyond overcrowding or a $100-plus million tax levy.

“People are looking for action and communication,” Froehlich said.

Sickler said since he replaced Sheriff Corey Falls two years ago, he has reopened the jail’s 62-bed basement and reorganized the layout to expand its nighttime capacity from 292 beds to 315, with a daytime inmate capacity of 300.

“To say nothing’s been done is a bit misleading,” Sickler said.

The jail now waits until morning to release inmates so they can be connected to various services, such as drug and alcohol treatment. The jail also keeps beds for those who chronically fail to appear to their court dates so they won’t be released early because of overcrowding, a step designed to save the court time and money.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Mail Tribune file photoBoth candidates for Jackson County sheriff say the current jail is outdated and inadequate.{ }