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Jail to rent beds to Benton County

The regional jail has begun to accept inmates from Benton County, which has agreed to rent a minimum of 22 jail beds, with a possibility of using up to 40 beds, the jail board heard June 15.

Prisoners from Benton County -- Corvallis is the county seat -- have begun to appear in jail reports and online at the jail’s inmate page. The page does not denote which inmates are from Benton County.

The county signed a three-year contract with the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facilities, Jail Administrator Bryan Brandenburg told the jail board June 15.

The Benton County contract increases 1.5 percent in year two and then another 1.5 percent in year three, Brandenburg said.

If they used all 40 beds, it would bring in about $900,000 a year.

Brandenburg is also working on a long-term contract with a tenant of the large jail-owned warehouse next to the jail, on Webber Street in The Dalles. In September, the tenant will take over the rest of the warehouse, plus office space, bringing in about $100,000 more than expected, for a new annual figure of around $600,000 per year, Brandenburg told the board.

“There’s some stability there that is starting to happen,” Brandenburg said.

That news was welcome after the jail’s May ballot effort to win a permanent tax rate lost by just 41 votes across its four-county region. The jail board will hold a work session July 20 to discuss its next steps.

The jail has a $6.7 million operating budget, with $3.8 million coming directly from the four member counties. Wasco County, which uses the most jail beds, pays almost $2 million of that four-county share. The other three counties are Hood River, Sherman and Gilliam.

Last fall the jail paid off the 20-year bond that built the facility, and was asking voters to continue that same taxation rate – of 26 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value – as a permanent tax rate to fund operations.

The vote passed by about 10 percentage points in Hood River, Sherman and Gilliam counties, but failed by about 10 percentage points in the much larger Wasco County. It was enough to bring about the narrow defeat.

The permanent tax rate would have brought in about $1.2 million per year. The jail board will use its July work session to discuss when to go out to voters again and how much to ask.

The jail is also continuing to house detainees from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), something it has done off and on since the jail opened in 1999. ICE has contracted with the jail to use up to 40 beds, but has been using closer to 20, which would bring in about $642,000 yearly.

Brandenburg said he is constantly looking for ways to generate revenue, including researching opening a substance abuse treatment facility in the jail. It would be in the area that housed work release prisoners.

Brandenburg told the board he is on the hunt for other revenue streams because “It would be nice to not have to deal with ICE, to be honest with you.”

The housing of ICE detainees, while it has been going on for years, has only recently become controversial, when a group of protesters began daily protests outside the jail in early May. The ongoing protests seek to end the housing of ICE detainees at the jail.

The jail was built to house 250 prisoners, said Lt. Dan Lindhorst, but only ever reached a high of about 210 inmates. Now, it houses between 100 to 130 inmates daily.

Sherman County Sheriff Brad Lohrey, who represents the four counties’ sheriffs on the jail board, said he would love to get a contract to house state prisoners at the regional jail. He encouraged the protesters who are against the ICE contract to approach state legislators about that.

“I would rather as sheriff have local/state prisoners in our jail than others,” Lohrey said.

Brandenburg reached out to the women’s prison about housing 75 inmates, but was turned down.

The jail board will also discuss at its July 20 meeting the housing of ICE detainees and try to get clarification on several issues of contention, including frequency of clergy visits and a reported lack of continuity in confiscating personal items from detainees.

Brandenburg also updated the board on hiring plans. He said the jail is hiring four control room technicians, in order to get more highly trained corrections deputies out of the control room and onto the floor to enhance security.

He will see how that affects workload, and is holding off, for now, on hiring two more corrections deputies, which are allocated in the 2017-18 budget. He is also holding off on hiring another nursing position included in the budget.

He’s hiring a full-time additional maintenance person to help tackle ongoing maintenance issues at the facility.

The jail is also opening a mental health unit this month. Since he began working at the jail almost two years ago, Brandenburg has implemented programming that has helped reduce recidivism – when a former inmate returns to jail on a new charge – by more than 10 percentage points. It was at 75 percent but is down to 64 percent.

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