There is a lot of talk – and some confusion – about the topic of jail overcrowding in Jackson County. I would like to explain the extensive process we use to determine which inmates are released when we reach our capacity (cap) of 230 inmates.
In 2015, the Jackson County Jail had 12,047 lodgings. These lodgings constitute all offenders who were arrested and brought to jail, as well as those who were booked and released after appearing in court. With only 230 jail beds available, we are almost always at our cap of 230 inmates. This causes us to have no choice but to release inmates to maintain that cap.
There are ways an inmate can be released from jail that are legally beyond our control:
- Bail: The State of Oregon has established a uniform bail schedule for all crimes. Sometimes the bail amount is further adjusted by a judge. There are only a few criminal charges that do not permit a person to be bailed out of jail. In most cases, the offender can post 10% of the bail amount and be released; the jail is required to release that person if bail is paid, even if the crime is serious.
- Release on own recognizance (“O.R.”): This is essentially a promise to the Court that the offender will return to court. This is a decision made by the courts and not by jail staff.
- Sentence served: The offender has served the sentence imposed by the court.
How do we determine who is released? JCSO, along with our partners at Community Justice and the Circuit Courts, has developed an assessment tool based on research done on data specifically for Jackson County. The assessment tool measures:
- Likelihood of an offender to appear in court as scheduled
- Likelihood of an offender to commit a new crime while out of jail
- General risk to the community
As each offender is brought in to the jail, we complete a risk assessment. Each question on the assessment is weighted and assigned a score from 0-6. The higher the score, the more of a risk for release that person is considered to be. If the score is 1-3, that person is considered a low risk and released from custody whether we are at our cap or not. If the score is 4-6, that person is deemed a higher risk and will not be released until we reach population cap.
Inmates ranked lowest are released first and high-risk inmates are held in jail. If, for example, police arrest and lodge a high-risk offender (6) when we are at capacity, an inmate with a lower risk score is released, even if the lowest ranked inmate at the time scored 4 or 5. In the event of unusual circumstances, the shift supervisors have the ability to hold someone who scores low on the assessment; but, that means someone with a higher risk score would have to be released instead in order to keep the population below cap.
Certain inmates are automatically excluded from release consideration with the assessment system. They include inmates accused of measure 11 crimes, those serving a court-imposed sentence, those held on probation or parole detention, those charged with sexual offenses, those who exhibit clear signs of mental illness, and those who have federal charges pending.
We are working with Southern Oregon University to assess the effectiveness of the assessment tool using data gathered from each completed assessment. We are constantly evaluating and updating the process based on input and feedback from others.
We understand that many in our community are personally invested in seeing an inmate serve his or her time – whether you are the police officer who makes the arrest, whether you are the victim of the crime, or whether you are simply a concerned citizen. The responsibility of releasing inmates is one that that each JCSO employee takes very seriously. We all live in the local community; crime affects us in the same ways it affects everyone else. It’s unfortunate that we have an overcrowding situation, but be assured that we doing our best with the resources available to us at this time. Thank you for your support.
Captain Dan Penland