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Inmates Escape from Klamath County’s First Jails

Over the years, Klamath County has had its share of difficulties keeping criminals safely confined.  The county’s first jail, made of sandstone blocks in 1899, was easily compromised. Located behind the courthouse in Klamath Falls, Ore., it became known derisively as the county’s cracker-box jail.
After a third jail break in 1919, the local newspaper reported it was by “the usual method” of removing one of the bars in the west cell.  A slender-framed inmate slid through the gap and helped other inmates escape.

A new Klamath County Courthouse opened in 1922.  It had detention facilities on the top floor, but inmates soon found a way to escape from them.

In 1923, the Grand Jury urged county officials to construct a separate jail that would serve for at least 10 years.  When it opened in 1927, two prominent local businessmen touring the building were accidentally locked in a cell for a few hours.

The new jail served much longer than 10 years, until a gleaming, $6 million facility opened in 1989.

It had defective cell door locks, but that was quickly resolved and there have been few escapes since then.


Sources: Evening Herald, 2 Oct. 1911, 17 Nov. 1917, 5 Sept. 1919, 30 Nov. 1923, 29 Dec. 1923, 2 July 1924, 4 April 1925, 24 Oct. 1926, 22 June, 1927. [Klamath Falls, Ore.]; Herald and News, 1 Aug. 1989, 25 Jan. 1990. [Klamath Falls, Ore.].

Todd Kepple has been a Klamath Basin resident since 1990. He was a reporter and editor the for the Herald and News from 1990 to 2005, and has been manager of the Klamath County Museum since 2005. He enjoys volunteering at Crater Lake National Park, the OC&E Woods Line State Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is also a founding member of the Klamath Tree League.