The Crook County Jail has experienced several milestones in its progression from a committee recommendation to taking its first inmates.
Perhaps the most important milestone was finally reached Aug. 16 when Crook County Sheriff John Gautney issued an announcement that the last of the Crook County inmates had been moved from Jefferson County's jail – where they had rented jail beds for years – to the Crook County Jail.
Gautney acknowledges that some last-minute issues remain at the new facility. A replacement piece of glass for the control room they received was not correct, so they are waiting for a new one that will need to be installed. A recent rainstorm revealed a design flaw in the back gate that caused water to get into the controls and render it unusable. They are still getting that fixed. And technology staff is still working on some remaining bugs in the video phone system that visitors use to communicate with inmates.
Those minor issues aside, things have gone well.
"It has actually gone smoother than I had anticipated," Gautney said of moving staff and inmates into the new facility. It got pretty hectic when they moved in all of the inmates and had to re-process them," he said, "but as all of the processing got done, people got housed and now we are just bringing in routine arrests. The staff has settled down, the inmates have settled down and everything has gone a lot smoother than anticipated. I have been pretty impressed with the staff. They have picked it up and ran with it."
Construction of the new jail was spurred by a growing group of citizens concerned with an ongoing lack of adequate local jail space, and the deteriorating condition of the existing jail. A citizen-led public safety committee formed and spent several months in 2016 determining what the community needed in terms of jail space and how much of a tax bond residents would support.
They ultimately recommended construction of a 76-bed, $17 million jail. A tax bond would cover $10 million of the cost, with the rest of it covered by Crook County and in-kind contributions from the City of Prineville.
The jail bond received 59.68 percent approval by local voters in November 2016, with 7,023 voting in favor of the bond. Construction of the new jail began toward the end of August 2017. Staff moved into the new building this past July and the first inmates were moved to the facility from the old Crook County Jail in early August.
"When we moved the inmates across the street, we had patrol block off the street and we just shackled them and brought them into the new building," Gautney said, noting that 19 inmates came over from the old facility that day.
"Then we started moving the Jefferson County inmates," he continued. "There were 22 in custody at that time." Those inmates were moved in three separate shifts with the final ones transported Aug. 16.
"We are all in one building," Gautney said last Wednesday, adding that the jail was housing 56 inmates that day. "If people get arrested now (in Crook County) they come straight here."
Not only does having a new jail make life easier for county law enforcement, having it under the same roof as the sheriff's office is advantageous. Gautney says he interacts with corrections staff more often, and the close proximity makes it easier for him and other staff to keep an eye on the jail and assist corrections staff if they need it.
"I think we are pretty well where we wanted to be and where we are going to be," he remarked.
And Gautney once again made a point of giving credit to, and thanking, the Crook County citizens for their role in making the new jail a reality.
"We wouldn't be here without the community," he said. "They are the ones who stepped up to meet the need."
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