JACKSON COUNTY, Ore. — People filled the Board of Commissioner meeting on Wednesday for the first public hearing on the proposed Jackson County Jail Service District.
The public hearing is just one of many steps needed before voters could see the new jail proposal on the ballot.
In January, the Board of Commissioner approved the Jail Service District. If the board decides to go through with the process after the hearings, then it will appear on the May ballot.
“We’ve committed to doing our best and I think we’ve done that with this facility, but this is an opportunity for the voters to speak and for members of the public to speak and to offer their opinions whether it’s today in a hearing or at a future hearing or by the ballot box," said Sheriff Nathan Sickler during his presentation.
The Sheriff has pushed for a new jail before. It failed to make it to the ballot last May.
Sickler said that the current jail doesn't support the needs of the community.
“We need to protect the public and when you look at what are our jail has not been able to do over the past at least decade and probably longer. If you look at the historically, in 1985 we were sued for overcrowding is, that’s not being done," said Sheriff Sickler.
The current jail was built in 1981. Back then, the population of Jackson county was 134,546. Now it's about 217,479.
Right now, the jail itself can hold about 300 people at one time. According to the Sheriff, the jail had about 40,000 bookings from 2016 through 2018. During that time, about 20,000 inmates were force released, or released before they could go to court or post bail due to overcrowding.
“Multnomah County, they had 95,000 bookings in those three years and only 256 force releases. So we’re really struggling to keep up with the amount of workload in our county," said Sheriff Sickler.
During the public hearing Wednesday, people were allowed to speak on their opinions of the jail. Of those that opposed the new jail, many said it was because of mental health issues. They felt the new jail is just a way to put away more people going through a mental health crisis and doesn't give them the resources they need.
In January, NAMI announced its opposition to the new jail.
“We are focused on the decriminalization of mental illness,” said Meesha Blair of the NAMI SO Steering and Advocacy Committees. “The new jail is being promoted as a way to get services to people by incarcerating them and holding them longer; that’s a step backwards.”
The Board of Commissioners acknowledged those concerns during Thursday's public hearing, but ultimately approved the first reading. The second reading is set for February 26.