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Jail’s revolving door affects public safety

The story in today’s Mail Tribune about the criminal charges against the brother of a candidate for judge and son of a former judge is newsworthy because it illustrates the toll that substance abuse takes on families, irrespective of their standing in the community. But the story is also another reminder that Jackson County needs a new jail.

Reporter Vickie Aldous describes the long series of crimes previously committed by Brian George Davis, 50, including theft, drug possession, assaults, driving under the influence of intoxicants and coercion. But most recently, he is charged in four separate cases, accused of assaulting an ex-girlfriend, burglarizing his parents’ house and breaking a window and a fence at another home.

Davis, the brother of attorney and judicial candidate Joe Davis and the son of retired Judge Ross Davis, was repeatedly released on his own recognizance from the Jackson County Jail — not, his brother says, because of any family connections but simply because the jail routinely releases arrestees because of overcrowding.

Davis was arrested and released three times between July 30 and Aug. 15, and each time he allegedly committed new crimes, including assault and burglary. The last time he was arrested, a judge increased his bail to $160,000 and ordered that he not be released for overcrowding.

In a Facebook post, his ex-girlfriend alleged he returned to her home and assaulted her after being released from custody.

Except for his name, Davis is no different than many other local residents who cycle through the jail but cannot be held there because the nearly 40-year-old facility is too small to meet the needs of a community that has increased in population. The inadequate space also means the jail cannot provide inmates the drug and alcohol treatment so many of them need.

Now that a judge has ordered Davis held and not released for overcrowding, his former girlfriend may sleep a little better. But the grim reality is that keeping Davis behind bars despite overcrowding means some other accused criminal will be released instead.

The only way to stop this revolving door system is to build more jail space. When the existing jail was built in 1981, Jackson County’s population was 134,546. Today, it’s more than 216,000. That’s the population equivalent of adding another city the size of Medford. And the jail still has just 292 beds.

County leaders conducted a survey earlier this year to find out whether voters would support a property tax levy of a little more than $1 per $1,000 of assessed — not market — value. The result was a resounding no.

But without more jail space, offenders like Brian Davis will continue to walk the streets and commit crimes they wouldn’t commit if they were behind bars.

The same social media platforms that carry pleas from victims like Davis’ ex-girlfriend display posts and comments from local residents critical of the crime rate. But until those who complain about crime are willing to help pay to address it, nothing is likely to change.

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