MEDFORD, Ore. — Last year, the number of inmates who gained early release from the Jackson County jail reached a fever pitch, with over 3,000 such releases in the first few months of the year. Now, according to the Jackson County Sheriff's Office (JCSO), those numbers are starting to settle once more.
There are two breeds of early release, according to JCSO. A "forced release" means that an inmate is let go because there simply is no more space in the jail.
Jackson County Jail Release Statistics (January 1 - May 31)
A "risk release" means that jail officials have evaluated the nature of an inmate's crimes, their criminal history, and their likelihood of appearing in court by using a "formula," and have determined them to be at low risk of causing further harm or failure to appear in court.
JCSO says that risk releases allow the jail to reduce the number of forced releases—and hopefully ensure that the more dangerous characters stay in jail.
See the table on the right for statistics from JCSO regarding jail releases since 2015.
In 2017, total early releases reached 3,137 between January and the end of May. This year, those numbers are down to 2,399.
What has made the difference? It isn't necessarily any reduction in crime. According to Sheriff Nathan Sickler, the jail reopened their basement level in April of 2017 (near the end of the period reported), increasing their capacity from 230 to 292. However, Sickler says, there are no more ways to add additional beds at the current jail facility.
Enter JCSO's "Top 5" chronic failure-to-appear offender program that started this year. “The Chronic FTA program is another example of how we are finding ways to get the best use of the resources we have,” said Sickler.
Much like the jail tries to release low-risk offenders, they are now trying to prioritize high-risk offenders—maintaining just enough space at the jail to take in and hold people with (in many cases) upwards of five outstanding arrest warrants until they can be processed through the courts.
JCSO reports that Sickler is pleased with the results that the Top 5 program and addition of beds has gotten them, but he says that there is still much to be done to fix the "revolving door" problem.
“Thousands of inmates are still being released back into the community before going to court, only to commit more crimes. We are working on finding a sustainable solution to this problem to reduce the crime rate and increase liveability in Jackson County,” Sickler said.
Sickler has been pushing for the construction of a new jail for months. In March of 2018, JCSO commissioned a survey for county residents to determine if they would vote in favor of a $100 million bond to pay for the new jail. Voters on the informal survey turned it down, causing JCSO to perform a tactical withdrawal on the issue.
However, the dream of a new jail remains. The JCSO website features a page justifying the new jail project—even providing answers to a number of "frequently asked questions."
"In 2017, the jail handled approximately 14,000 lodgings," the new jail page reads. "About half were released before they could appear in court or pay bail, due to capacity restrictions."