Does renting more beds make most sense?

Crook County residents have long strongly supported their law enforcement, and are in general agreement that upgrading incarceration capacity is a must-do for the future. The demand for jail space is much higher than the mere 16 beds the inadequate Crook County Jail has.

For several years, Crook County has rented several beds (currently 16) from Jefferson County, which opened a new 160-bed facility in 2001.

While the jail is a county responsibility, we applaud the joint effort between it and the city, which needs a new police department facility, to study options. Together, the city and county are funding a $38,400 master plan study to determine the cost of building Pioneer Memorial Hospital into a jail and justice center, or building elsewhere.

It's also encouraging that renting more beds is still being considered. It may end up the most cost-effective way to move forward. For certain, it would be the fastest way to attack the problem of an extensive waiting list of people required to serve jail time.

Certainly Jefferson County is hoping Crook County will rent more beds. Jefferson County officials indicate that operation costs alone are about $110 per bed. However, Jefferson charges Crook County just $65 a bed per day. That would appear to be a great deal.

Before building its jail, Jefferson County was in a similar situation as Crook finds itself. It had about 25 jail beds and a much-publicized backlog of well over 100 people on a waiting list to serve time.

What Jefferson County found was that when its large facility opened was that backlog was quickly addressed. Now, the county regularly houses about 40 local inmates. With similar populations, it stands to reason that Crook County would also have about 40 or so inmates on a regular basis.

Crook County law enforcement officials have raised the good point of transportation costs adding to the expense. That should be more of a negotiating point than a barrier. If Jefferson County so badly wants Crook County's jail business, it should take on transportation.

Regional jail facilities are common, of course. Norcor, based in The Dalles, serves four counties in Oregon. In Central Oregon, there is one shared juvenile facility. Maybe letting Jefferson County be the regional facility for Crook and Jefferson makes the most economic sense for Crook County.

With the multimillions it would take to build the jail, then the millions it would take every year to operate it, renting beds would obviously be the cheapest way to go forward. Would it also be the smartest in a comprehensive way?

Potentially, with tens of millions of dollars not being shelled out for a jail or a hospital remodel, then the ensuing cost of daily operations, the city and county's law enforcement operations could invest in other ways to make our communities safer — for instance, a new city police department and more officers on the streets 24 hours a day, instead of resources spent in the jailhouse.

Maybe the studies will indicates that, yes, it does make the most sense to build and operate a jail here. And maybe the public's will to do so will win the day. With the prudent, cautious way the county (with the city's inclusion) has been moving on this important issue, we're confident the smartest path for both the short- and long-term will eventually be taken.


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