More cells will mean less crime

Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler and his staff deserve credit for squeezing in every last possible cell space in the county’s jail, boosting the inmate population by nearly two dozen at night. But he knows, and so should we all, that it’s not enough.

He also seems to know that the trial balloon of building a new 1,000-bed jail is not going to fly anytime soon, not with a price tag of $100 million. The unpleasant reception that idea received in a survey of county residents probably has put it to rest. Nevertheless, Sickler and other county officials should continue their work to come up with a jail plan that will help put some teeth in our criminal laws.

A scaled-down proposal that also offers a realistic option for future expansion could very well do the trick. Residents all over the county are sick and tired of seeing — and reading about — suspects being arrested and promptly released due to jail overcrowding. A little over 300 beds is hardly adequate for a county of this size, and the number of offenders who are released early only to offend again is an insult to the idea of criminal justice.

A case in point: Scott James Mountain was arrested Thursday on a felony warrant for possession of meth. He was out of jail by Saturday. Monday he was arrested for allegedly robbing a Wells Fargo Bank in Medford.

The county’s hands are tied in trying to keep repeat offenders locked up, faced with a court order capping the number of cells.

Meanwhile, people like Mountain roll in and out of jail, arrested and released over and over. One new program that sets aside 10 beds for repeat offenders already has worked. A significant increase in that number of beds would put an equally significant dent in the county’s crime rate, a big chunk of which is driven by thefts committed by addicts.

County Administrator Danny Jordan is probably right that a 1,000-bed jail makes the most sense in the long run. Every bed that is not built now will just cost more when it finally is built.

But the reality is, the tax rate of just over $1 per $1,000 of assessed value it would take to pay for the jail likely wouldn’t pass in an election. Something more along the lines of 600 or 700 beds might stand a chance. It would be even more sellable if the jail site were large enough to accommodate a future expansion.

Medford took an undeserved hit from a national study that rated this city as the third worst place in the nation to raise kids. That’s ridiculous, but one of the metrics was crime — and the single crime that stood out was theft. Drug addicts who have little or no means of supporting themselves will get their money somewhere, and that somewhere is from our homes and our stuff.

Jackson County residents deserve to be safe in their homes. We think they will support that notion if the county can put forward a more modest proposal for a new jail.

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