New Jail Project

Jackson County Sheriff's Office staff are exploring ways to help alleviate problems in the local criminal justice system caused by an undersized and outdated jail. The goal of this website is to help educate citizens about the problem so we can work toward an effective solution.

The current jail was built in 1981, when Jackson County's population was 134,546, and was designed to hold 176 Adults in Custody (AICs). In 1985, AICs sued Jackson County for overcrowded conditions; the settlement led to clear restrictions on the ability to house additional AICs within the current facility. 

In 2017, the jail handled approximately 14,000 lodgings. Due to capacity restrictions, about half were released before they could appear in court or pay bail. Upon release, many offenders go on to commit additional crimes, to be lodged in jail, and to be released again. This "revolving door" affects livability in the community and creates a strain on local resources.

In 2018, Jackson County's population reached 215,000 and continues to grow.  Modifications to the jail now allow a total capacity of 300 AICs (315 overnight) - a capacity that is still inadequate to address the needs of the community.

In 2019, Jackson County completed the purchase of a parcel of land in North Medford upon which to build a proposed new jail. Efforts are currently under way to introduce a plan to voters to approve a service district to support future jail operations. 

Sheriff Sickler is available to present information about the jail project to local groups and organizations. Please call (541) 770-8923 to make a request. 

This page is a work in progress and additional information will be added over time. We hope you will find it useful.

Why does it cost so much?  $166 million sounds like a lot of money.
It is a lot of money, but it is realistic.  Corrections facilities cost much more to build than structures like homes or businesses.  State law requires specific building standards for jails, which include features like reinforced concrete walls and enhanced security features.  The infrastructure to support a facility that includes living quarters for hundreds of people is incredibly extensive; the sewer system alone is immense!

The estimate was informed by research and recent examples.  Skagit County (Wash.) opened a new jail in 2017.  The cost was around $62 million for a 400-bed facility.  Recently, Clatsop County (Ore.) voters passed a bond to help fund a remodel of an existing building; the estimated cost is about $28 million for a 148-bed jail. We have to keep in mind that construction costs go up as time goes on; the longer we wait to get started, the more expensive the project will be.

Most importantly, the sheriff's proposal includes funding for operating costs.  It would be a huge mistake to spend money to build a new jail without planning to fund its operation.  In 1996, Multnomah County passed a bond measure to open a new jail.  The 525 bed jail was completed in 2004 for about $58 million.  Unfortunately, the jail was never used to house inmates because of a lack of funding for operation.  The sale of the building was approved for $5 million dollars in 2018 - a huge loss.
Why can't you just add more levels to the existing jail ("build up")?
The option to add more levels in the future was possible back when the jail was finished in 1981.  The original design could have supported up to seven levels, with a maximum planned inmate capacity of less than 300!  But, building codes have changed since then. The current structure does not meet seismic building requirements to support additional levels.  It is possible to retrofit the existing jail to allow additional construction.  However, this process would be costly and would still leave us with an aging facility and the need to house more inmates than the facility would allow.  We would also need to find an alternate housing location for hundreds of inmates during the lengthy renovations.
Why doesn't the county just use the "rainy day" fund to pay for a new jail?
The county administrator has agreed that general fund reserves can be used to help with the project.  During the last proposal, Jackson County pledged $66 million from the reserves to go toward the proposed $166 million project, leaving a balance of $100 million to be funded through a proposed tax district.  The reserves alone do not contain enough money to fund the construction of a new jail, though, and certainly would not sustain jail operations over time.  It would also be unwise to allocate all of the reserves for one project; the entire county relies on the reserves to help with financial needs among all county departments and functions - not just for JCSO.  
Can we use revenue from recreational marijuana taxes to pay for a new jail?
Measure 91, as passed by the voters, gives the state the sole authority to collect taxes on marijuana sales.  The money is then distributed in accordance with the formula set forth in Measure 91, which is generally earmarked for enforcement and prevention efforts - not capital projects. Regardless, the amount Jackson County receives from the state is minimal and would not begin to cover the cost of building or operating a new jail.
What about a gas tax?
According to the Oregon Constitution (Article IX, Section 3a), taxes on motor vehicle fuel must “be used exclusively for the construction, reconstruction, improvement, repair, maintenance, operation and use of public highways, roads, streets and roadside rest areas in this state.”  A jail doesn't fit into that category. 
Are there grants available to pay for a new jail?
There are no grants or federal funding available to pay for a new jail. There are grants that could offset costs for programs within a jail or even some small portions of the construction, but nothing substantial or significant.
What about inmates who need mental health or drug treatment?
It's no secret that many inmates would benefit from mental health and/or substance abuse treatment.  The current jail lacks adequate space to offer such programs in an effective manner.  Due to capacity restrictions, many inmates are released within a few days (the average length of stay for an inmate is four days); there isn’t enough time for them to properly engage with treatment programs or services.  A modern jail with sufficient capacity would allow us to incorporate much-needed resources into our facility and to hold inmates long enough to give them the opportunity to effectively take part in those services.
What is the "cost of crime" in Jackson County? Is it higher than the rest of Oregon?
It's quite expensive and we are seeing a greater financial impact here in Jackson County than in the state as a whole.  According to a study completed in 2019, the cost of crime in Jackson County is estimated to be $171.2 million per year, compared to $2.49 billion for all of Oregon. In per capita terms, the cost of crime in Jackson County is $806 per person and $618 per person for the entire state.  The study is available to read in the "Documents" section on this page. 
What does the jail size have to do with the ability to prosecute suspects?
Because the Jackson County Jail doesn't have enough capacity to hold every inmate until trial or until they make bail, they are released back into the community with a promise to appear in court.  Many continue a pattern of committing crimes, being lodged in jail, and being released due to capacity restrictions - the proverbial "revolving door."  In many cases, by the time a suspect makes it to court, they have committed many crimes and often face prison time.  Conversely, a community with a larger corrections facility can hold inmates longer - allowing them time to take advantage of substance abuse prevention and mental health programs - removing the opportunity for repeat offenses.  When an inmate in jail appears in court when scheduled, they do not continuously rack up "failure to appear" warrants and prolong the time it takes to take a case a trial.  The community benefits from a larger jail because the criminal justice system is more efficient, and recidivism is likely reduced. 
How many jail beds do we really need?
 In 2006, the National Institute of Corrections suggested the number of beds needed to effectively serve Jackson County was approximately 600.  That was 13 years ago – the county’s population has continued to increase since then.  We want to be able to house inmates long enough to impact crime and to support the criminal justice system as a whole.  In 2017, we were forced to release nearly 4000 inmates due to capacity restrictions (and 5000 in 2016), not to mention several thousand “risk” releases each year (a risk release is basically a pre-emptive forced release). We believe being able to effectively house at least 750 inmates will serve the community for years to come.  Our goal is not to build a new jail that we will again fill to capacity, but to have enough empty bed space to appropriately classify inmates and house them appropriately.  Empty jail beds would also provide a deterrent to criminal activity, something we currently do not have. 
What about sending inmates to the Josephine County jail? They have room.
Using a jail in a nearby county is more costly and complicated than it may seem.  Jackson County would need to come up with an estimated $3.5 million a year to house 75 inmates in the Josephine County jail – a figure that would still likely require voter approval.

The Josephine County Sheriff’s Office is currently in a state of growth as they work to fulfill their own commitment for recent voter-approved jail services.  Josephine County will have about 75 beds available after they reach their own capacity goal of 184 beds. However, they currently don’t have the staff to support their own commitment; it will be some time before they have completed hiring and training for new deputies and staff – a process that takes about a year for one employee.

In order for Josephine County to house inmates from Jackson County, we would need to pay them to hire and train even more deputies and support staff.  To accommodate transfers from jail to court and other services, Jackson County would still need to add transport deputies at an additional cost.  While this would provide some relief to our current crisis, it is certainly not a long term solution – for Jackson or Josephine County.
Why don't you boost inmate capacity by adding pre-manufactured structures next to the existing jail?
We have researched this option, but it has been found to be impractical, unsafe, and outside current legal and building requirements. The temporary structures researched do not meet American Correctional Association (ACA) standards for inmate housing.

Oregon Revised Statute 169.076 (Standards for Oregon Correctional Facilities) requires all facilities to meet Oregon Structural Specialty Code, the standard building code for commercial buildings, with no exemptions. Manufactured buildings for commercial use must meet all of the same requirements as any newly constructed building and must be approved prior to use. That means State officials must visit the manufacturing plant and review of all their plans, documents, and designs to ensure compliance with Oregon codes.  Oregon has not approved any manufactured building for use as a correctional facility; state officials have told us that the likelihood they would is slim. Further, the City Of Medford Site Plan and Architectural Commission (SPAC) would also be required to approve the plan, which is highly unlikely with current city requirements.  

The existing jail parking lot is not large enough to keep a fire lane, fire egress, and maintenance setbacks if multiple units were placed in the lot. Other practical issues that come up when considering this option include parking codes, plumbing, sprinklers, electrical, camera/security requirements, emergency power, and security challenges. Overall, it's simply not a safe, cost-effective alternative.

More info:

What about building a "tent city" instead?
Using tents as jail space has several issues.  First, meeting the jail building standards required by Oregon law would be nearly impossible using tents as inmate housing (this was further addressed in the question regarding the use of pre-manufactured buildings for inmate housing). 

A "tent city" would also certainly be a target of litigation and, in turn, cost the county a significant amount of money in legal fees – money that would be better spent on building a more suitable jail facility in the first place.  In Maricopa County (Ariz.), where this form of jail space was widely publicized, sheriff’s officials closed the “tent city” due to a myriad of issues including civil rights violations, lawsuits, and a proven lack of reduction in recidivism.
Why don't you use ankle bracelets or other types of monitoring instead of holding people in jail?
Home Detention and Pretrial Supervision are both used in Jackson County.  Approximately 24 people are on home detention and 106 are on pretrial supervision at any given time - meaning there are already 130 fewer people in jail. 

For Home Detention, the judge must first approve alternatives to jail on the judgement and then the client must report to Community Justice and apply for the service.  Applicants meet with Home Detention personnel and must meet the requirements as well as have the financial means to pay for the service. 

Pretrial Supervision clients must be approved by the judge and must also report to the Community Justice office.  

These services are initiated by the judge and not something the Jail or Community Justice controls.  There are personnel in the jail who review cases daily and make recommendations to the judges, however, they do not have control over whether or not the judge follows the recommendation. 
How much does it cost to maintain the current jail facility?
The cost to maintain the current 77,000-square foot jail facility is about $400,000 per year, including labor.  The building's aging systems and heavy use cause a need for continuous maintenance.  Facility Maintenance officials estimate the annual maintenance cost for a proposed 200,000 square foot jail facility would be about the same due to improvements in construction and efficiency - adding 123,000 square feet of space without an increase in maintenance costs. 
What will happen to the old jail if we build a new one?
This question will be decided once we determine if a new facility will be built.  Some have suggested building a new, smaller jail and continuing to use the current jail. But, it would be cost prohibitive to run two facilities, which creates higher overhead costs, plus added staffing and operation costs overall.  Another consideration is that a new facility - even if a project was started tomorrow - could take up to five years to be completed.  The current jail is already nearly 40 years old; it is becoming more obsolete by the day and will be even less effective as our population grows.