Late last week the Medford city council voted to approve the proposal for a new Jackson County jail. It was the last city council to vote.
Here are five key things to know:
What are the arguments for building a new, larger jail?
The current Jackson County jail is too small, according to Sheriff Nate Sickler. As a result, he says, inmates are regularly released early because there isn’t enough space to hold them. Sickler argues this perpetuates a problem of inmates cycling through jail when individuals who have been released early don’t return for their trial, resulting in even more serious failure to appear charges. He also says the threat of a bigger jail will create a deterrent to crime.
How much bigger would it be?
The short answer: it would increase from the current 315 beds to 800 beds.
The longer answer: inmate numbers are intentionally kept at below capacity for safety purposes, according to Sickler. Around 300 inmates are currently housed during the day and 315 at night, even though the current jail has 346 beds. The new jail would have 800 beds, but Sickler says, their goal would be an average population of about 650 inmates.
How much would it cost and where would the money come from?
The new jail would cost approximately $170.9 million to build and operate, according to estimates from the sheriff’s office. Jackson County would allocate approximately $66 million to the project and set aside 47 acres of land for its location near the sheriff’s office at the intersection of Vilas Road and Crater Lake Highway in north Medford.
To fund the jail, the majority of Jackson County’s 11 city councils agreed on a resolution to create a jail “service district,” a geographic area where taxes are collected to fund the project. The City of Talent voted down the proposal. Anticipating that opposition from past efforts to expand the jail, Sickler added a second resolution that excluded Talent from the service district since the project could still be funded without property tax money from the small city.
The property tax rate to fund the new jail is $0.8719 per $1,000 of assessed value, or $87.19 per $100,000 of assessed value. The median home value in Medford is approximately $293,000 according to Zillow, which translates to a $255 tax increase per year for the foreseeable future. The median home value in Ashland is approximately $463,000, which translates to an ongoing cost of $403 per year for jail construction and operation.
How are critics reacting to the plan?
Two main concerns have appeared at recent council meetings. First, some residents say the jail project and associated taxes cost too much. This was of particular concern for residents living on fixed incomes. Second, critics say crime in Jackson County is linked to substance abuse and mental illness. Many residents at recent council meetings spoke in support of directing taxes toward more robust prevention programs instead.
According to the sheriff, $4.3 million will be allocated to medical services, addiction services and mental health in the new jail. Around $780,000 of that would come from the county’s general fund and the remainder from the new service district.
What happens next?
The Medford city council was the final municipality to vote on the jail plan. Next it must be approved by the Jackson County commissioners. It would then be put on the ballot during the May, 2020 primary election for voters to decide.