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Jail consolidation off the table Print E-mail
Written by Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer   
February 15, 2014 10:19 am

Discussion about consolidating the Curry County jail with the one in Coquille in Coos County is off the table, as far as Sheriff John Bishop is concerned.

Jails elsewhere in the state that export their criminals to other jails are just starting to realize the deal’s not quite as good as they originally thought.

Hood River and Sherman counties are thinking about ending their contract with NORCO in The Dalles because of the costs. And Columbia County is close to closing its jail, as well, and might rent merely 10 beds from Polk County.

“I ask them, ‘What if you get 11? Especially if it’s a Measure 11 (major crime) criminal?’ And they replied, ‘Well, we just let one of them go.’ They’re now looking at different ways to fund the jail.”

Mergers

Consolidation of regional jails was among a variety of ideas bandied about at a Curry County Public Safety Summit meeting last month to help Curry County overcome its fiscal shortfalls since federal timber revenue ended in 2012. That money helped fund public safety and, without it, the sheriff and other county departments are down to skeleton staffs — and crime is on the rise, Bishop said.

But consolidation is not a viable option, Bishop told county commissioners at a work session Wednesday.

“I’ll put one issue to bed,” he said. “Outsourcing the jail will cost us way more money.”

He presented figures gathered by Coos County Sheriff Craig Zanni that both admit are likely too low. The figures outline the costs of everything from daily meals to transporting criminals from the jail in Coquille to the courts in Curry County.

For starters, Bishop said, if the jail here were to stop taking in inmates, it would become a “holding facility,” which falls under an entirely different set of rules.

For instance, if an inmate were housed in Coos County and faced a hearing in Curry County, the inmate would first have to be transported — 75 miles one way — to attend their hearing in the morning and wait until the afternoon for further proceedings. Between those two court meetings, they would be held in the jail.

Holding facilities can only keep inmates up to four hours, by law, so the decision would have to be made whether to have a deputy guard the inmate during that recess, or drive him or her back to Coquille — a four-hour round trip.

And as long as someone is housed in a holding facility, they must be provided with meals, hourly inmate checks and any prescription medications they need.

Coos County costs

The cost to provide extra staffing in Coos County, which would include opening a new wing in the Coos County jail to accommodate 35 more inmates, was originally estimated at $344,000, Bishop said. That doesn’t include benefits for the jail deputies, which would increase the cost at least $20,000.

Coos County officials said it would cost $100,000 to provide basic medical care — cold medicine, doling out prescription medications, attending to minor injuries, and the like — an extravagance considering what Curry County pays for a nurse to do those duties.

And that figure doesn’t include any major medical incidents, including the seemingly innocuous trip to an emergency room, Bishop said.

“You have one heart attack in jail and someone goes to Medford?” Bishop hypothesized. “That’s not even including the deputy (that has to stand guard) in the hospital room.”

Coos County said they’d charge $40,000 to feed Curry County’s inmates, making it by far the lowest cost per meal of any jail in the state, Bishop said.

“You cannot do it for that price,” he said. “That’s $1.08 a meal. We’re at $2.58. In the past, when the inmates cooked, it cost about $100,000. And our current cooks may not renegotiate their contract; they’re losing money with us.”

The total cost difference is $773,000, just less than what Bishop was able to run the jail operations for last year.

Closed … but open

State law requires counties to have a facility where the cities, Oregon State Police troopers and Sheriff’s officers can take their inmates. That means Curry County would still have to maintain its fingerprinting machine, insurance and booking materials — and the people to operate them.

The daily cost to operate Curry County jail was $93.11 per inmate last year; the average is around $95, and many are in the $105 to $111 range.

There are Constitutional issues, as well, Bishop said.

“Defense attorneys are already ready to file injunctions against us if we go this way,” he said. “They’re even talking about making us pay for their gas and time to Coquille.”

Without the jail, he added, Curry County would lose grant funding, inmate telephone revenue and money given to the county from the state to house Measure 73 felons — those charged with at least three drunk-driving incidents — for which it receives $88 a day for up to 90 days.

Not only would closing the jail affect local families who would no longer have jobs, but Bishop wonders what would happen once Coos County citizens started realizing they were subsidizing their neighbor’s criminals.

“I will oppose any movement in this direction, and the Coos County Sheriff stated he will not support any consolidation against my wishes, especially if it doesn’t save us any money or costs us more,” Bishop said. “He said they’d recall him faster than. … He said it’d be ugly.” 

 

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