MEDFORD, Ore. – Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler is reacting to concerns regarding a reduction in state funding for some community correction programs.
The Oregonian/OregonLive reported on August 27 that Oregon state contributions to county corrections in Multnomah County have been reduced, resulting in what’s considered “inadequate” jail funding there.
The funding issues will not directly impact Jackson County. However, the report prompted Sheriff Sickler to send out the following statement:
You may have read news reports this week about an upcoming change in state funding for corrections programs. While we will not receive full funding in Jackson County, we believe we will be able to avoid a reduction in corrections services. However, with the enhanced budget indicated in the article, we could have been in a position to bolster programs that are much needed in our community.
The state cuts affect programs designed to reduce county jail and state prison populations – a theme that has been touted by state government and law enforcement officials for years. I won’t get into the weeds regarding the decision-making process that led to this change. But, to me, it seems counterintuitive to reduce funding to the very programs that work to reduce recidivism and to help stop the “revolving door” of the criminal justice system.
I would like to bring your attention to an excerpt from the Oregonian article, citing Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese regarding a pending 6% reduction in his county’s jail capacity.
“At that level, he said, the county would be at 95 percent capacity daily, requiring ‘significant’ emergency releases of inmates from jail that would be ‘catastrophic’ to the criminal justice system.”
Without making light of the situation in Multnomah County, what Sheriff Reese describes as “catastrophic” for his community has, unfortunately, been a reality in Jackson County for years. The emergency release of inmates when a jail reaches or nears capacity – also known as a “forced release” – is normal here. Our jail operates above 95% capacity every day.
To put it into perspective, consider that Multnomah County – which has nearly four times the population of Jackson County – reported 186 forced releases from its jail in 2018. In the same year, we had 5300 forced releases in Jackson County.
While that may seem like a staggering comparison, consider that it has been worse. We have made some progress in reducing forced releases over the last few years. The 2018 total was a reduction from approximately 7000 in 2017 and 8600 in 2016. We are on pace for about 4050 forced releases in 2019, which is a significant improvement, but it still means that inmates are being released before their cases go to court thousands of times every year. A lack of jail space is clearly the weak link in our local system.
We will continue to work with our community partners to work within the limited jail space we have. But I will also continue to explore ways to fund a new, effective corrections facility that is adequate to handle the public safety issues that affect our community.
Sheriff Nathan Sickler