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Jackson County jail posts social media stories to address overcrowding

Jackson County Sheriff
Interior of the Jackson County Jail

The Jackson County jail began posting social media stories on Wednesday about inmates who have recently been released due to overcrowding issues at the jail.

The jail posted information online, including charges and pre-trial status, about the nine inmates who were released within the last 24 hours solely because of overcrowding. They had charges including probation violation for third degree robbery and firearm possession.

Jail Commander Captain Josh Aldrich said the social media outreach is motivated by an effort to connect with and educate the public.

"We're trying to be interactive now. Very frequently, when we post a story or an update on social media, we get questions and sometimes comments that are inaccurate. We just thought that this is an opportunity to really just kind of show what the true story is," he said.

Aldrich said that when the jail's population exceeds its capacity, staff uses a standardized assessment tool to determine which inmates should be released, which is signed off on by the jail supervisor. Who gets released "depends on what the jail population is on any given day," he said.

"The person who ends up being the lowest risk based on our proven risk assessment tool" is the one who gets released.

"In Jackson County, most people who have non-violent-type crimes are being released due to overcrowding on a regular basis. And that's just because so many of our beds are taken up," he said.

The Jackson County jail reported the highest number of releases due to overcrowding in the state of Oregon over the last six years. According to a press release from the Jackson County Sheriff's Office, the jail averaged more than 5,300 overcrowding releases each year from 2016-2021. Most of the jail's population is ineligible to be released due to their charges, including murder, sex offenses and other serious crimes, according to the press release.

Aldrich said the issue of early release due to overcrowding is worse at the Jackson County jail than at others throughout the state for a variety of reasons, including a community population that has grown significantly since the jail was built, "law enforcement who do really good work" and "a jail that's undersized."

In 2019, residents voted against expanding the jail to around 800 beds from its operational capacity of 300. The jail is currently operating with a capacity of 260-270, due to COVID-19 restrictions.

But Aldrich said this social media move is not part of a campaign to expand the jail.

"There's no direct plan right now. I mean, I think what's important is that the community sees that we're releasing a lot of people right now who have charges that I think most of the community do not want to see just released without a judge making that decision. There's no campaign beginning, there's no specific plan," he said.

Aldrich said the jail plans to continue the social media effort for the foreseeable future, posting stories including inmate information about those who have been released since the last post was made.

Jane Vaughan began her journalism career as a reporter for a community newspaper in Portland, Maine. She's been a producer at New Hampshire Public Radio and worked on WNYC's On The Media. Jane earned her Master's in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.