At one time, walking into the Jackson County Jail was like coming home for Ira Dean Carney.
"Jail was no big deal for me, cause I'd spent most of my life in there," Carney said while having a smoke outside the Talent work-release center Thursday afternoon.
Carney, 50, estimates he has been arrested 24 times since 2002, a year after he was released from a 20-year prison sentence for assault and burglary.
Carney is not alone. Local police say they have dozens of repeat offenders who have logged more than 20 visits each to jail in this decade alone, including one who has been in and out of lock-up more than 40 times.
In February, 30 percent of the people arrested in Jackson County were either on parole or probation, according to Medford police officer Brent Mak.
Apparently, the threat of jail carries little weight with a certain portion of the population.
"You become numb to it to where it's not punishment," Carney said. "You come to accept it as part of your life."
Carney was raised in a family of criminals. One of his first memories was stealing a carton of cigarettes for his stepfather, he said.
"I've pretty much lived a life of crime all my life," Carney said.
Later, he would develop a taste for methamphetamine, alcohol and marijuana that would drive him to steal anything that wasn't nailed down.
When the police caught up with him and locked him in jail, he would swap "war stories" with other ex-cons. It was like a family reunion, he said.
"We'd talk about crimes we were going to commit," Carney said. "We would even learn new things from each other."
Jail deputies call them "frequent flyers" or "fat files."
They are inmates for whom jail is almost like a second home. The "fat files" nickname stems from an inmate's rap sheet that fills a large manila envelope in the jail records department.
One of the best-known "frequent flyers" walked through the jail's back door July 2, just as Jackson County sheriff's Lt. Brian Anderson was explaining how his office sees the same faces return time and again.
The inmate's name is Glenn Raymond Rock, and he has been arrested or charged with a crime nearly 40 times — nearly a fourth of them felonies — since 1988, according to Jackson County Circuit Court records.
"He's the definition of a frequent flyer," Anderson said.
Rock, 47, has past convictions for possession of methamphetamine, eluding police and fourth-degree assault.
Rock also is Carney's second cousin.
Jackson County sheriff's Deputy Greg Gritsch has worked in jails for 30 years. He doesn't remember a time when Rock wasn't a regular guest at the local jail.
"He's been around about as long as I have," Gritsch said. "It doesn't surprise you to see him come in."
Rock was ushered though the jail's processing area and led to a glass-enclosed cell, where he remained lodged without bail three weeks later for a probation violation.
Gritsch and fellow jail Deputy Cheryl Bundy try to keep it light-hearted when discussing "frequent flyers" but often end up shaking their heads in frustration when describing their interactions with jailhouse regulars.
"A lot of them say we'll never see them again when they leave," Anderson said. "A week later they're back."
Aside from the frustration caused by repeat offenders, the cost of housing and moving them through the judicial system gets more expensive every year, said Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters.
"It costs around $60 per day to house an inmate and a lot more than that in prosecution and defense fees to the county," Winters said.
Nevertheless, some jail deputies have developed a special rapport with the "frequent flyers." They often know intimate details about the inmates' lives and even have locked up their children and grandchildren.
"They start to look at us as a type of bizarre extended family," Bundy said. "When they come to jail, it's like no big deal to them."
The "frequent flyers" may be familiar faces, but the deputies still treat them with caution, Anderson said.
"You never forget what they are and where they came from," he said.
Repeat offenders by the numbers
Mak, with the help of the Jackson County Sheriff's Office and Jackson County Community Justice, has crunched the numbers for Jackson County's recidivism rates.
"They're not pretty," Mak said.
Approximately 1,980 people are on some form of post-prison supervision in Jackson County. That small group of people, who account for less than 1 percent of the county's population, accounted for 28 percent of the arrests in the last quarter of 2008, Mak said.
"So what we have is the same people committing crimes over and over again," Mak said. "The problem is when they are released they go back to hanging around the same people who are trouble."
The picture is not completely grim, Mak said. He believes community justice programs work in helping criminals get on the right track.
"There certainly are some success stories," Mak said. "Community justice is important work."
However, Jackson County recidivism rates exceed the state average.
The recidivism rate for parolees on post-prison supervision in Oregon is 40 percent, while in Jackson County it's near 60 percent, Mak said.
The only way to slow the flow of repeat offenders is for police to work even closer with community justice officials to keep an eye on people under post-prison supervision, Mak said.
"It's a revolving door," he said. "And it has to stop if we want to get a handle on this problem."
Carney claims he is done stealing and using methamphetamine.
He is serving a 90-day stint in the work-release center for smoking marijuana that he said he used to ease the pain of a severe toothache. He had several of his front teeth removed after entering the work-release center.
"I was truthful with them about doing marijuana," he said. "Before, I would have lied and probably would have stolen the money to get my teeth worked on."
Carney believes one way to keep repeat offenders from plaguing society is to fund programs such as drug court, which targets high-risk addicts and tries to steer them away from drugs through treatment and counseling, and the work-release center.
"The work-release center allows us to go out into the community and work to make things better," he said.
Carney's arms are covered with jailhouse tattoos depicting skulls, scorpions and black flowers. He said they remind him that he's spent nearly half his life behind bars and give him motivation to change.
"I was on a first-name basis with everyone at the jail," he said. "The last time I went there I felt like I didn't belong."
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.