EUGENE, Ore. — The doors swing open and inmates, like Steven Montoya, don’t waste any time getting as far away from the Lane County Jail as they can.
“Sure, I committed a crime. I did my time,” said Montoya, who was in jail on a marijuana possession charge. “I’m not a really good person, but, still, I’m minor enough right now that I shouldn’t have been in there.”
He and other inmates released Wednesday worry about who will get out on Friday — and in the days and weeks to come.
“What kind of system do we live in where they allow this kind of thing to happen?” Montoya asked.
“Lane County just isn’t a proper jail,” says Timothy Gilmore, another of the inmates released Wednesday. He and Montoya call the releases a scare tactic.
“They let out hardened criminals who were on their way to prison in order to get funding for their jail,” said Montoya.
“The more media you guys give them,” Gilmore said, “the more chances they have to get the money to keep it running.”
Jail staff say they rely on a computer program called the Risk Assessment Tool.
“[It] decides whom we release, so it kind of takes out the human factor,” said Sgt. Carrie Carver with the Lane County Sheriff’s Office. “Are we releasing people right now that the tool is saying are dangerous? Absolutely. It’s because we don’t have enough jail beds to keep all of them. But we are releasing the least-dangerous that we have in our facility.”
In the meantime, the closure of 96 jail beds — 32 a day over three days — is creating a contentious atmosphere inside the jail’s walls.
“It’s not much different with the inmates,” said Gilmore. “It’s the guard who are different. They’re shorter with us. They don’t want to help you with any of your issues.”
“The people who work here are deputies,” Sgt. Carver said. “They live in this community and they work in this community and they take a lot of pride in their community. To see this happen as part of your job and — as part of your job — to have to be a part of the releases, that’s very difficult.”