CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Benton County Jail has been operating since 1976 to house inmates, but it was only supposed to last ten years.
The Benton County Sheriff’s Office says the building is cramped, falling apart, and it is hoping to get a bond measure on a future ballot to replace the jail.
“With a county population of about 88,000 to 89,000 – to have 40 beds available is ridiculous,” said Benton County Sheriff Scott Jackson.
Jackson says Benton County was planning to team up with other counties to build a regional jail in the 1970s. However, the plan fell through, and Benton County is still using the same jail that was supposed to only be a temporary solution. Now, in 2014, the jail has to turn people away every week.
“There are so many hours that our deputies or the officers of Corvallis arrest somebody and they have nowhere to take them because our jail is closed,” he said. “The other weekend, a car that was stopped right outside of Corvallis – one person had a Linn County warrant and the other had a Lincoln County warrant. Our jail was closed. So we had to get two deputies to drive them to Linn County and the other to Lincoln County. Of course we’re paying those deputies for a several hours’ trip and they’re not patrolling Benton County like they should be. So it’s a real costly issue we’re facing here.”
The jail says when it is full, it has a matrix system to determine who would be released.
Jackson says releasing inmates is not only a public safety concern, but is also expensive to the community. The county pays more than $1 million a year to rent bed space from other jails.
“We’re investing in our neighboring counties,” Jackson said. “Building infrastructure and jobs in their communities when it should be in our own community.”
But even if the jail wanted to add more beds, it wouldn’t be able to.
“We’re not capable of expansion,” Jackson said. “We’ve utilized every nook and cranny that we can find.”
Nor does the jail have any space to offer programs to help inmates with job skills or anger management – services volunteers have offered to help with.
“We’re doing a disservice to our community by not offering programs,” said Jail Manager Diana Rabago. “But we don’t have the ability to do so, and it’s frustrating.”
Jackson says the jail is also falling apart. Despite continuous maintenance repairs, he says the building is unsafe.
“It won’t meet the current fire code,” he said. “We’ve had doors fall off, the walls fall apart; light fixtures fall off the ceiling.”
Rabago says the jail will be holding open houses next month sometime so community members can visit the facility. Jackson says eventually he hopes to see a bond measure option on a future ballot that would ask voters to fund a new jail.