Curry County Jail: We’ll leave the light on
May 20, 2009 06:00 am

Charging Curry County Jail inmates room and board?

It’s not as far-fetched as it may sound – several economically-challenged Oregon cities and counties are already doing it.

With the dilapidated Curry County jail on the brink of insolvency – and in violation of state and federal health and safety codes – Sheriff John Bishop is getting financially creative.

He recently started going through his department’s financial records, looking for previous inmates who owe the county money – about $102,000 – for prescription drugs and in-jail doctor visits.

“Nobody has tried to collect this money, so I’m going to try and see what happens,” Bishop said, then added, “We are starting to get $100 here and $100 there, so it may work.”

Another option is to charge inmates per night for staying at the jail.

Many criminals are likely too poor to pay such a fee, but Bishop said he would have no problem charging those who can. “We will never recoup all the costs, but we could get something, which is more than we are getting now.”

Klamath and Douglas counties have daily rates for their jails. In April, the Springfield City Council approved a plan to charge $60 a night for its beds at the Lane County municipal jail. That means an inmate behind bars for 60 days could be expected to pay $3,600.

The Curry County Jail  can house up to 53 inmates. Even at the bargain-basement price of $20 per inmate per night (the state allows a maximum charge of $60), the amount of revenue generated wouldn’t come close to covering Bishop’s projected $1.1 million jail budget for next year. And that’s just to maintain the jail as is.

Still, it’s something. And it sends the message that crime doesn’t pay in Curry County.

In the end, charging former inmates for in-house medical bills and charging future inmates room and board, will not provide enough money for what is really needed – a new jail. But what are the chances of convincing county officials and voters of that?

What’s more likely, according to Bishop, is state or federal officials closing the jail down for health and safety violations.

If that happens the county will have to transport inmates to jails in Coos Bay and Grants Pass – and that will likely cost the county and taxpayers more, in the long run, than building a new jail.