Reoffending criminals; why are they back on the streets? Part 2

Medford, Ore. — The Medford Police Department posts updates on crime and suspected criminals in our community nearly every day on their Facebook page. If you follow the department you may notice some of those same names popping up over and over. A battle between officers and the same group of people who create most of the havoc.

It’s a complex problem Lieutenant Mike Budreau said doesn’t have an easy answer. What to do with criminals who reoffend.

“We loosely say it’s 10% of the population committing 90% of the crime,” he said.

A search on Medford Mugshots shows some well known criminals have been arrested dozens of times.

“There’s countless examples of criminals we arrest over and over again,” Budreau said.

It’s not only frustrating for police officers.

“It’s discouraging to everyone including the defense bar. The general public I’m sure is discouraged by it,” Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Tim Barnack said. “You want to see them being held accountable but you also want to see them change their lifestyle.”

Barnack said many times when he sees reoffenders they’re caught up in drugs. But someone who’s been convicted of possession of methamphetamine, a felony crime, is only looking at days in jail. Even if it’s their 50th possession conviction.

“Most drug charges are the smaller possession charges. They’re at the lower end of the category, usually we put them in jail for 10 days,” Barnack said.

Jail sentences increase when the crime is against another person. Oregon’s sentencing gridblock factors in criminal history and crime severity. Barnack said he has to follow it closely.

“There have been a lot of people I want to send up state, but the law is the law is the law,” he said. “I have to follow it so that’s what I’m going to do.”

Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert said while the gridblock ensures consistent punishments from county to county some serious crimes don’t result in serious jail time.

“If they have no criminal history they’re not looking at much time even though the facts of this case are somewhat serious,” Heckert said.

With Jackson County reducing jail beds and state prisons asking for fewer inmates who is sent to jail is decided carefully.

“We unfortunately don’t have enough beds to hold every single person who gets sentenced or commits a crime,” she said. “So we have to make a choice.”

That means some people convicted of lower class felonies don’t serve time at all.

“If we could get them locked up we could see changes in our crime rate, but we just don’t have that option,” Budreau said.

In addition to Jackson County’s three drug courts both Heckert and Barnack hope Jackson County’s new mental health court can help provide more support and services to those who need it. And get them out of the system for good.

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