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Jackson County Sheriff’s Office surveys voters for new jail

The Jackson County jail was built in 1981 and has
Erik Neumann
The Jackson County jail was built in 1981 and has 346 beds.

In 2020, voters overwhelmingly rejected a tax to pay for a new jail in Jackson County. Now authorities are revisiting the project.

Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler thinks that after four years of releasing inmates early due to a lack of holding space, voters may be finally ready for a jail upgrade.

“Over the years, I think we've had one of the most significant forced release problems in the state,” said Sickler.

He said last year around 2,700 inmates were let out to make room for those newly booked. That’s had an impact on crime, according to the sheriff. He also said more suspects are not showing up to court because they know they won’t face the consequence of jail time.

“And so we just have a lot of problems that stem from forced releases. And when you look at the compounding effect over years, it's been pretty detrimental to our criminal justice system,” said Sickler.

His office is conducting a phone survey to gauge voter interest in replacing the current 346-bed jail built in 1981. The replacement could cost up to $300 million and add hundreds of beds.

The results of the phone survey will be shared with county commissioners. Sickler said another ballot measure would be needed to fund the new jail. In 2020, over 70% of Jackson County residents voted against a tax of up to $.87 per $1,000 of assessed property value for a new jail.

In May, voters in nearby Coos County rejected a levy to fund more deputy district attorneys to tackle a backlog in cases and add beds to their county’s overcrowded jail.

Justin Higginbottom is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. He's worked in print and radio journalism in Utah as well as abroad with stints in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. He spent a year reporting on the Myanmar civil war and has contributed to NPR, CNBC and Deutsche Welle (Germany’s public media organization).