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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow More inmates = more beds

More inmates = more beds

Ron Grove controls the movements of inmates as corrections deputy at the Baker County Jail and Justice Center. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).
Ron Grove controls the movements of inmates as corrections deputy at the Baker County Jail and Justice Center. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).

By CHRIS COLLINS

Of the Baker City Herald

Although the Baker County Jail's capacity was ample when it was completed more than 10 years ago, more beds are needed to keep up with the current crime and sentencing rates, according to Sheriff Troy Hale.

Built to hold a maximum of 35 prisoners, the jail averaged just 22 to 23 prisoners a day when it opened at 3410 K St. in 1991. These days it is running at capacity regularly, and plans are being made to add more bunks.

The staff routinely is forced to release suspects after they have been arrested because of overcrowding, Hale said. Several factors contribute to the inmate increase, according to the sheriff.

"With the downturn in the economy, crime rates start to go up a little bit," he said.

The county's increasing drug problem, especially the sale and use of methamphetamine, also can be blamed for the rise, he said.

"They can only go so long before they get caught," he said.

People involved in drug crimes are serving more jail time rather than being placed on probation since Circuit Court Judge Greg Baxter took office a year and a half ago, the sheriff said.

Sex crimes continue to rise in the county as well, he noted. He attributes those statistics to the increased public awareness of the problem, which leads to more investigations and more arrests.

Under state law, the jail also is responsible for housing prisoners who are sentenced for 12 months or less under state law, Hale said. The Baker County Jail averages five to six state-held inmates at a time, which adds to the total jail population.

In recent months, the jail also has had a capacity number of women, which can range up to as many as eight at one time, he said.

Decisions on which inmates to release depend on their crimes, and the other inmate population, Hale said. The jail crew coordinates the effort with the district attorney's office and the Circuit Court judge. Officers also are encouraged to cite and release suspects when possible when the jail is near capacity.

"For the last six to seven months we have been holding 35 on the average most days," he said.

Baker County isn't facing the issue alone, Hale noted.

"It's a problem across the state in every county," he said.

To alleviate the overcrowding, the sheriff plans to add 10 more bunks to existing one-bed cells, bringing the capacity to 45 inmates. Some cells were originally built with double bunks, so there is only room to add 10 more.

"To house 10 to 12 more doesn't cost that much extra money," Hale said. "There's no need in letting people go who deserve to be in jail."

The expansion will be done incrementally and paid for through the sheriff's department's budget. No new employees will be added to the 12-person corrections staff as the jail capacity is expanded.

"We're doing it slowly so we don't compromise officer safety," he said.

The cost of each bunk and the installation expense is estimated at about $500, Hale said.

Other changes also are in store at the jail where new uniforms already are being phased in. The two-piece orange jail uniforms that county inmates have worn for about the past decade are being replaced by a one-piece, black-and-white striped jumpsuit. The one-piece suits are cheaper and easier to maintain, Hale said.

A food-service contract is being developed to provide cost-saving meal plans that will offer fewer calories. The price is expected to drop from $1.60 per tray to about 85 cents per tray under the proposal, Hale said.

The change will put corrections staff back out on the floor to focus on their main job rather than supervising and assisting inmate workers in meal preparation.

Adding the additional bunks should benefit the entire county by allowing the jail to house more prisoners, Hale said.

"If they're in here they're not out there doing crime."

 
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