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Community leaders host a well-attended grand opening for the Crook County Public Safety Facility

JASON CHANEY - Citizen jail committee co-chairs Von Thompson and Mike O'Herron participate in a ribbon cutting as multiple community leaders look on.

The Crook County community was invited to see the community's long-awaited new jail Saturday afternoon, and hundreds showed up for the celebrated occasion.

The tone of the event was joyous and light-hearted as multiple guest speakers took the stage erected just outside the front door of the new facility. Crook County Undersheriff James Savage led off the event, inviting several different county and law enforcement leaders past and present to speak.

Coming to the podium first was Crook County Judge Seth Crawford, who gave a recap of the community's lengthy law enforcement and jail history. He credited former Sheriff Rodd Clark, who launched the first efforts toward building a new local jail. Crawford went on to note that his successor, Sheriff Jim Hensley, took that foundational work and resurrected plans to build a new jail. He then praised current Sheriff John Gautney for continuing the work started by his predecessors and seeing it through to completion.

Crawford was one of several speakers to recognize the three county sheriffs and their role in the effort. County Commissioner Brian Barney, whom Crawford said played a large role in the jail project, was another to credit the sheriffs as well as former County Judge Mike McCabe and Commissioner Ken Fahlgren.

Like other speakers who would later take the stage, Barney's thank you list was lengthy, with recognition given to Kirby Nagelhout, the contractor that built the jail, and project manager Jerry Milstead.

His last thank you went to the people in the audience and voters county-wide.

"We all thank the citizens of Crook County who gave their hard-earned money to build the Crook County Public Safety Facility."

Several speakers credited a citizen-led jail committee for making the jail project a reality. The co-chairs of that committee, Mike O'Herron and Von Thompson, also took the stage, providing a thorough recap of the committee's work with local leaders to develop a workable jail proposal.

"We started out miles apart and we ended up on the same page," O'Herron said.

Concluding the guest speaker portion of the event were Gautney, Hensley and Clark, who all took the stage together and said a few words to the crowd.

The approximately 300 people in attendance were then invited to take a self-guided tour of the new jail. In various rooms throughout the facility, jail staff described different portions of the facility to visitors.

Family members marveled at the new and modern facility, and several families took a rare moment to snap a photo of themselves or family and friends inside the new jail cells.

Going forward, jail contractors need to complete some wrap-up work on the facility before administrative and corrections staff can move into the building and before the facility can begin housing inmates.

Remaining work includes replacement of glass in certain portions of the facility to ensure the building is secure enough to hold inmates, installation of a phone system for video inmate visitation, installation of a body scanner, and general finish work.

Meanwhile, staff has been participating in training on the new facility for the past three weeks as they wait for contractor work to conclude and make room for them to move into the new addition. Gautney said that staff wishes they had a firm move-in date, but they are nevertheless excited about eventually having a better and safer working environment.

Once staff is moved in, they will begin populating the jail with inmates. For security reasons, Gautney could not give an exact date on when that would begin, but he said "we are going to do our very best to have inmates in here in July."

When the time comes, he said they will move Prineville inmates first, "and give time for the staff to get acclimated to having inmates in the facility and seeing if there are any issues." He went on to explain that inmates in the current Prineville jail are the lowest classification in terms of threat or escape risk.

"Then as we move forward, we will start transitioning the inmates from Jefferson County one classification at a time, starting with the lowest classification up to the high risk," he continued. "It will be a process. It will take some time to get everybody transitioned into the facility."

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