Deschutes Co. Jail expansion: Back on the table

Commissioners approve $10.9 million to add 144 beds

POSTED: 7:37 PM PST January 31, 2013    UPDATED: 7:38 PM PST January 31, 2013 
BEND, Ore. -

A nearly $11 million expansion of the Deschutes County Jail is back on the table.

County commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday night to add 144 beds to the jail, a  project expected to be complete in two years -- five years after voters rejected a tax hike to pay for a larger jail project.

It's a plan first proposed early last year, but which lost steam and was canned back in September.

County officials came up with a different plan they hoped would be cheaper -- use the juvenile facility for adults, and remodel a different facility for youth offenders.

"We learned that changing the juvenile detention situation would cost more money without giving us future growth," Commissioner Alan Unger said Thursday.  "So it was more cost-effective to return to adding to the jail."

Remodeling the sheriff's work release facility to house juvenile offenders could have cost up to $3.8 million, a figure higher than commissioners had hoped.

Sheriff Larry Blanton told NewsChannel 21 it's the best decision for everyone and won't add any new taxes for residents.

But how will the county pay for the new beds?

Adding to the jail could take money away from the juvenile facility.

"It costs us almost  $3 million a year to run our Juvenile Detention Center," Unger said. "Where are we going to cut when we need to cut juvenile services in the future?"

Unger said the juvenile center will have to run more efficiently, and he hopes the county won't have to cut programs that keep kids out of jail.

Unger also said the county will pay for the expansion with bonds, and the sheriff's office will save about $300,000 a year by no longer renting beds in Jefferson County.

Unger said some of the issues are out of county hands. He says the state under-funds the court system -- and that is one of the reasons the jail needs an expansion.

"About 70 percent of them (in jail) are pre-trial," Unger said.  "They've been arrested and now their waiting to go to trial. If the court system had more money, they could be more efficient, and we could put more people through the system -- and they wouldn't be waiting to go to court."