Your View: Unused state prison could solve jail problem

Editor’s note: This is in response to our April 5 editorial on the jail levy survey.

By John F. Owen

The need for a new jail in Jackson County came to my attention in the spring of 2016. At the time, I was serving on a grand jury in Jackson County, and I became aware of the problem presented by the revolving door of repeat offenders (often for drug-related crimes) in conjunction with the shortage of available beds at our county jail.

At the same time, I learned of a minimum/medium security prison recently constructed in the Eastern Oregon community of Madras. I was told the prison remained unused due to a shortage of funding.

Subsequently, I submitted a proposal to Gov. Kate Brown and copied our sitting county commissioners as well as our state representatives, senator and county judge assigned to the Drug Court Program. My proposal was as follows:

Fund the operation of a correctional/addict recovery center at the Madras site, with a percentage of costs apportioned to the affected county. Such a facility could be a valuable adjunct to the Drug Court Program (now the Recovery Opportunity Court), addressing addiction as well as recidivism while mitigating the shortage of available beds in our county jail.

No one responded to my proposal; yet today, the need for a solution is more urgent than ever.

According to the Oregon Department of Corrections website, the Deer Ridge Correctional Institution is now only partially used. Approximately one-half of the 1,223 beds in the medium security side of the Madras prison remain unoccupied.

While I haven’t performed a cost/benefit analysis, I suspect that my proposal would afford, at least in the short term, a more economical alternative than constructing a new jail in Jackson County.

John F. Owen lives in Ashland.

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