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Benton County Jail Concerns

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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.

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  1. Nick says:

    This is very misleading. The jail is small, yes, but it is a non-issue. Anyone who they must keep, they can. What the benton county does is send inmates to three other county jails that have bed space while they are awaiting their trial. Anyone who they need to hold, they do. Anyone who is allowed to be released is released, regardless if there is bed space or not to save money from housing people. The county is broke; that’s why it releases anyone it legally can. It has nothing to do with public safety concerns. It is predetermined by judges who can and who cannot be released.

    As far as the jail falling apart, that is also bogus. It is one of the most secure county jails in Oregon. The facilities are adequate for the number of inmates who are housed there. There is a work program, so I have no idea why they said there wasn’t. There are also church services, cable television, an extensive library, and all the essentials that inmates would need.

    So why, you may ask, do they want to build a bigger jail. It’s simple. They want to be able to house more inmates in the state, and that includes increasing the county jail population. There is a culture war (sorry to use bill O’s catch phrase, but it fits here) that is going on in our society. There are people who are trying to criminalize behavior they don’t approve of. You may doubt this, but there is more than enough evidence for anyone who decides to go looking for it. Look at the numbers for jail and prison population over the last decade or two. Then look at the rate of violent crimes. The former is increasing, the latter decreasing.

    Do some research on your own and make up your own mind if you want to create a jail/prison state or not.

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