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Limited Jail Space in Jackson County Outpaces Problem In Portland, Sheriff Says

Jackson County Jail in Medford, OR.

A recent report about reduced criminal justice funding in Northern Oregon warns about the risk of fewer jail beds and inmates being released from jail early. But space issues are an even bigger problem in Southern Oregon, according to Jackson County Sheriff Nate Sickler. 


An August 27 article in the Oregonian quoted Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese saying proposed budget cuts to criminal justice programs could be “catastrophic” in the Portland-area. 

“In his words that would be detrimental or catastrophic to their criminal justice system,” said Jackson County Sheriff Nate Sickler. “Well, we’ve been living that catastrophic impact for a decade or more.” 

Sickler said the biggest impact of jail space constraints is known as “forced release,” where inmates are released from jail early or before trial because there isn’t enough space to hold them.   

The Jackson County jail has 346 beds, according to Sickler. He says their average inmate population exceeds that at 358 this year. 

Space issues have led to 186 forced releases in Multnomah County last year, Sickler wrote in a statement reacting to the Oregonian article, but compared that to 5,300 early releases in Jackson County. The Southern Oregon county is also far smaller in population. 

Sickler said the Portland-area sheriff’s comments “gives credence to what we’ve been saying all along, that our system isn’t healthy here because we don’t have enough bed space for inmates.”

 Jackson County isn’t facing the same state budget cuts as Multnomah County. Sickler also noted that forced release numbers have been decreasing in Southern Oregon in recent years. 


Solving the problem of releasing inmates early will require a new jail with room for treatment and bed space, he said. 


Erik Neumann is the interim news director at Jefferson Public Radio. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.