Jail bed shortage forcing Lane County to release violent offenders

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) – A shortage of jail beds in Lane County has put more violent offenders back on the streets in the four months since the sheriff’s budget was slashed.

The Register-Guard newspaper reports that since July, the number of inmates released from prison in Lane County has increased by nearly 60 percent.

According to court and jail officials, more than 400 inmates arrested on violent charges are among the roughly 1,700 inmates who have been released.

If the pace continues, the county will release more than 4,250 inmates in 2008-09 fiscal year because the jail lacks the staff to hold them.

The county’s budget committee is expected to discuss funding in meetings next month.

“We’ve had countless assaults, personal injuries to innocent victims, burglaries and car thefts by people who were released against the law,” Lane County Circuit Judge Mary Ann Bearden said.

Oregon law requires defendants be jailed until trial if charged with assault, robbery, sex abuse, murder or other serious felonies.

But the 2008-09 budget included only enough money to operate 127 beds for inmates awaiting Lane County Circuit Court trial or serving “local time” sentences because of Lane County’s funding crisis.

With federal funds, officials have hired staff to restore an additional 33 jail beds this month, but Bearden said that not enough to fix the problem.

The jail’s current average of 0.3 beds per 1,000 residents is the lowest in the state, according to Sheriff Russ Burger, and the additional 33 beds will still leave Lane County far below the state average of 2.4 jail beds per 1,000 residents.

The situation is complicated by a rising violent crime rate in Lane County. District Attorney-elect Alex Gardner said a recent study shows violent crime in Eugene increased by 15 percent between 2005 and 2007. He said 2008 statistics have yet to be compiled.

Bearden said she now factors jail bed availability into every decision she makes. The practice would have been “unthinkable” two years ago, she said.

“How do you look people in the eye when we let (these) people out every day?” she asked commissioners in a meeting last month. “It’s a credibility issue with the community.”

source: http://www.katu.com/news/local/35036549.html

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