Following the defeat of a local law enforcement tax levy, officials in Josephine County have begun to dismantle the sheriff’s office and public safety operations this week.
Due to lack of funding, the sheriff’s office has laid off 19 (of 25) road deputies, reduced its K-9 unit to one dog, and closed several divisions, including its major crimes unit and non-emergency calls department. The list gets worse from there.
How much worse? Yesterday, 39 inmates were released from the county jail. Local news crews were on the scene for the release.
Undersheriff Don Fasching and other sheriff office staff expressed their concern about recidivism without community support for the released inmates, many of whom have multiple felony convictions.
The question is, what happens now? The county’s unemployment rate is 12.4% (nearly 4 points higher than the state average). Funding has been slashed for the support services that could help the former inmates successfully reintegrate, and the devastating public safety cuts mean few officers will be available to respond to emergency calls.
In short, it’s a recipe for disaster for everyone involved.
From the Oregonian: “…the sheriff’s civil division reduced its hours to three hours a day, four days a week. Road patrols diminish on Friday, dropping from 20 hours a day to eight hours a day, five days a week. The number of patrol deputy positions will drop from 24.5 to six. Three of those are contract deputies, specifically assigned to patrol Cave Junction, Bureau of Land Management forests and Oregon State Marine Board waterways. That leaves two deputies and a sergeant for the rest of the county.
With just six patrol deputies for the entire county, this amounts to one deputy for every 13,785 residents — up dramatically from a ratio of one deputy to 3,308 people before the cuts took place. Or, from a geographical stand point, each remaining deputy is effectively responsible for 273 square miles of the county.
Don Reedy, a county commissioner who lost his bid for reelection (in part, he thinks, due to his support of the money measure), told the Oregonian that voters just didn’t believe the county was broke. The evidence is now unavoidable.
Again from the Oregonian: “The sheriff’s office issued a public warning for people in a ‘potentially volatile situation’ such as being the protected person in a restraining order. ‘You may want to consider relocating to an area with adequate law enforcement services.'”
We called the Josephine County Sheriff’s office for comment and more information, but their voicemail message was as follows: “You have reached the Josephine County Sheriff’s office. Due to limited staffing we are unable to answer your call. If this is an emergency, please hang up and call 911. If this is not an emergency and you would like contact regarding a law enforcement matter, please leave a brief message with your name and phone number. Messages will be returned as time permits.”
Related News Clips:
Josephine County inmates back on the street (w/ video)
“The jail doors came open Wednesday, and dozens of inmates literally came running out. The Josephine County Sheriff’s Office released 39 inmates from the county jail Wednesday morning. The men and women poured out of the facility; some cheered; others made a beeline for the nearest road, and many were surprised to be getting out.”
40 inmates to be released from the Josephine County jail (w/ video)
“40 inmates are scheduled to be released from the Josephine County Jail at 9:30 AM Wednesday morning. This is according to an email sent out overnight from the Josephine County Sheriff’s office. The inmates are being released in order to meet the new low capacity of 60 total inmates.”
Thirty-nine inmates hit the streets of Grants Pass before serving their time (w/ video)
“Sixty is the new capacity for the Josephine County Jail, but employees there say they’ve kept the worst of the worst and may have to let more go if it get’s to dangerous. The county jail released 39 inmates from the jail Wednesday none of them served their full sentence. Criminals released after committing a variety of crimes, ranging in severity from petty theft, to sodomy.”
Cash-strapped Oregon county releases inmates amid budget cuts, expiring timber subsidies
AP via Washington Post
“Dozens of inmates ran whooping from a small town jail into the sunshine Wednesday after a cash-strapped county in Oregon’s timber region was forced to release them amid budget cuts. The sheriff’s office released 39 inmates, dropping the population at the jail in Grants Pass to 60 — half of them federal prisoners held on contract. ‘We had no other alternative based on our funding predicament,’ said Josephine County Undersheriff Don Fasching. ‘We are very concerned for public safety.’ About half of those released will finish their sentences on work crews. The rest were waiting for trial.”
Josephine County begins releasing inmates
“The Josephine County Sheriff’s Office is releasing about 40 inmates today from the jail at Grants Pass, including people charged with robbery, assault and sex crimes. The Medford Mail Tribune newspaper reported the releases. Reducing the jail population is part of the county’s continued response to voter defeat of a law enforcement property tax levy. The measure, defeated in the May primary, would have funded the sheriff’s office, district attorney and juvenile justice program. It would have increased the county government property tax rate by $1.99 per $1,000 of assessed value. The rate now, 58 cents per $1,000, is the state’s lowest. Sheriff Gil Gilbertson was unavailable for comment. A clerk said the sheriff and other top officers were overseeing the release this morning.”