New jail would allow for future inmate increase

A recent article about a proposal for a new $100 million Jackson County Jail raises several questions. Are all prisoners housed in the jail in downtown Medford or are some held at the large Jackson County Sheriff's Office building on Crater Lake Highway in Central Point? The Sheriff's Office website indicates that the Medford jail can house up to 292 male and female inmates. Why is a 1,000-bed facility being proposed? That is a significant increase at a significant cost.

— Kathy, Medford

The Jackson County Sheriff's Office does not keep inmates at its building on Crater Lake Highway, Sheriff Nathan Sickler said.

People in custody are sometimes brought to the building for interviews, but their stays are short, he said.

"We don't house them here," Sickler said. "Usually they're here for one or two hours, if at all."

County officials recently projected that building a new jail would cost an estimated $100 million and increase operating costs by roughly $14 million a year.

Those costs would be for a 1,000-bed jail. The current jail has 292 beds and regularly releases inmates because of overcrowding.

County Administrator Danny Jordan said a new jail would likely hold about 750 inmates in the beginning, but building a 1,000-bed jail would allow for future growth of the inmate population.

His reasoning for making estimates on a 1,000-bed jail is that it doesn't make sense to build a 750-bed jail that would hit its capacity soon after opening — especially because it would take 20 years to pay off the construction costs.

The county could potentially ask voters to approve a law enforcement district that would pay for the jail and its increased operating costs through property taxes, Jordan suggested.

Such a district could cost property owners an estimated $1.09 per $1,000 of assessed property value, he said. That would equal $218 a year for the owner of a house assessed at $200,000.

Construction costs would account for 35 cents of the $1.09 and would be paid off in 20 years. Continuing operating costs would account for 74 cents, said Jordan.

Although the new jail would more than triple its inmate capacity, operating costs would only double, according to estimates.

That's because the jail's current linear design — with cells lining long hallways — is inefficient and makes it hard for jail deputies to easily supervise inmates, an audit found.

Critics of the current jail, which was built in the 1980s, say it was outdated on the day it opened because it wasn't built using modern jail and prison designs in which guards in a central location keep watch over surrounding prisoner areas.

Jackson County's newer juvenile detention center is built using those more modern principles.

Sickler said county staff plan to prepare information in a "frequently asked questions" format and post it online in coming weeks so the public has more information about the jail proposal.

— Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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