Ashland Leader Speaks Out about the New Proposed County Jail

Follow the Money

I recently looked at the Jackson County Jail list of inmates to help me understand the request of Sheriff Sickler to triple the Jackson County Jail into an 800 bed facility to be located in the northern part of the county.

The ask is huge, 166 million dollars, which is now quickly rising to 170 million, according to County Administrator Danny Jordan. That seems like a lot of money to me. The cost to each of us personally is around 200 bucks per year. But, like you, I don’t want violent offenders roaming the streets due to an over crowded jail so I thought perhaps, as advertised, this is a necessary move to keep us safe.

So I looked to see who is currently in our jail. You know what I found? Of all the inmates currently housed there are roughly ten percent charged with violent crimes: murder, rape, luring children, burglary and so forth. We definitely want those people to remain in jail until adjudication. No question about it.

But, I was surprised to find most of the inmates are charged with simple personal possession of drugs, failures to appear on minor crimes, probation violations and violations associated with homelessness like trespass, making unlawful warming fires or disorderly conduct.

While folks who do these things must be dealt with, more jail time has never been the answer. Locking people up with addiction never solves addiction long term. Addiction is illness and needs treatment, not incarceration. Jails are not equipped. Mental illness is also never cured by incarceration, in fact it’s made tragically worse. People who are sick need medical care not jail time. And being homeless is not solved by locking people up in a concrete cell– but by housing.

The sheriff says if we give him 200 bucks a year out of our pockets he will do his best to treat the addicted and mentally ill. But it’s not a part of the measure he wants you to pass. If he really wants to help the addicted, the mentally ill and the homeless why isn’t in writing for those purposes instead of a jail?

I started to wonder if this was some sort of bait and switch. I continued to ask questions.

Then I remembered my motto as a journalist: Follow the Money

Here’s what I found:

If the Jackson County Jail expands to an 800 bed facility, nearly triple its current size, it will have space to lease out beds to other counties, to the state prison system, to federal agencies and cities here in Jackson County. It will be able to keep people incarcerated in those leased beds longer.

What the sheriff is asking you to do is to support a private prison model of incarceration for profit.

The Prison Policy Initiative has studied this idea over the years and found that indeed county sheriff’s are using jails as a money making scheme. I’ve taken the liberty of quoting a recent article from the Intercept which backs this theory up:

“In the end, the real harm is being done to those incarcerated. Local jails with profit motives are incentivized to house increasing numbers of people, without regard for services or educational programs for those incarcerated. The Times-Picayune reports that in Louisiana, those stuck in local jails on state contracts “subsist in bare-bones conditions with few programs to give them a better shot at becoming productive citizens.”

It is time to accept the counter-intuitive truth: sometimes the government profits off of mass incarceration.” (https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2016/06/09/privatejails/)

I have seen the Jackson County Jail: barebones is a very good description.

I’m still at a loss as to why the sheriff wants to profit off mass incarceration. I’ve tried to ask him, but still don’t have an answer.

I’m additionally at a loss as to why our cities would support this. How does it help us? How does spending policing hours to drive even further to transport people to jail spend our officer’s time wisely? What’s the cost of that? Are we going to be asked for more officers to deal with this yet again?

The whole thing seems to be offer more questions than answers.

I agree that we absolutely need to keep violent offenders in jail until their court dates. We have the beds to do that now.

I agree that we must treat the seriously ill, addicted members of our society and therefore we must consider an effective use of tax dollars to provide therapeutic research based rehabilitation. Jail is not the place for addicted people. It is good money after bad.

I agree that we must care for the mentally ill who through no fault of their own are struggling every day. To that end we must spend our hard earned dollars wisely on care and treatment to restore these suffering friends and neighbors so that they can contribute to society.

I agree that homelessness is on the rise and must be addressed. The answer is housing and living wage jobs–not jail time. It is not a crime to be poor in this country and I hope it never becomes one.

You work hard for your money. The cost of government keeps rising. This will cost us all 200 dollars per year. And that’s not the end of it. They’re already saying the price is rising and it will continue to rise. They’ll be back again asking for more money for unforeseen costs. I’ve seen it play out hundreds of times.

Now, if the sheriff wants to re-write this measure to include 200 beds for qualified, peer reviewed, therapeutic, architecturally appropriate, low security drug treatment and 200 beds for appropriate mental health care and 100 beds for jobs skills training and re-entry for homeless people without the stain of incarceration–I’d be happy to look at it.

But as it stands now this is a no. Full stop. I urge every tax payer within this county to tell the sheriff to come up with something truly helpful instead of mass incarceration for profit.

For these reasons I vote NO on jail expansion and I urge you all to do the same.

Julie Akins, Ashland

//inserted by Sharon