Crook County commissioners voted last week to move forward to the next phase of a feasibility study that will help determine whether Pioneer Memorial Hospital can be converted to a jail and criminal justice complex.

During a meeting and public hearing held by the county court, Sheriff Jim Hensley presented several different financial scenarios for commissioners and the audience to consider.

Ultimately, all of the numbers suggested that the city and county would be best-served from a financial standpoint if they decided to convert the hospital building, once it is vacated, to an 81-bed jail. In fact, the option is so much cheaper than building a 70-bed jail from scratch, that local leaders could convert the PMH facility to a jail and criminal justice complex that would house the Prineville Police Department and Crook County Sheriff’s Office as well as the 911 dispatch center.

Hensley said that it would cost about $26 million to build a new police department and jail separately form the ground up. The jail alone would cost nearly $13 million. Converting the hospital would instead cost about $10 million to $12 million for the entire jail and criminal justice center.

While it makes good sense, thus far, from a financial standpoint, local officials and citizens have given the location mixed reviews due to concerns about putting a jail in a residential neighborhood.

We understand this concern. Housing inmates and potential dangerous criminals could certainly make people concerned about the safety of their families.

However, we believe that citizens should give this idea a chance and trust that community and law enforcement leaders know what they are doing. Hensley pointed out that the current situation recently forced county law enforcement to release more than a dozen inmates in one week. Of those, one inmate was the subject of a sex abuse case. Furthermore, the jail time is used as a sanction for probation violations. Because of deficient jail space, many people wait to serve jail time, and tend to reoffend knowing they may not end up in jail.

Lastly, the current jail situation forces county law enforcement to release inmates at all hours of the day and night. With adequate facilities, Hensley said they would release much fewer inmates, and they would only leave the jail in the morning.

We believe that converting the hospital building to a jail would result in a safer community. While it is located in a residential community, the increase in jail beds would enable law enforcement to hold more inmates and ultimately keep the streets safer.

The citizens of Crook County should support the new jail proposal while paying close attention to the details of the project. If it is done correctly, it could make the community much safer for a lot less money.

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