At long last the $18.5 million Crook County Jail is open and operational.

Crook County sheriff’s deputies on Monday escorted all of the inmates from the old jail to the new one across the street and behind the historic Crook County Courthouse.

“This has been long overdue for Crook County, and the community should be proud of this new facility that you have provided for,” said Sheriff John Gautney. “It’s 10 times better than the one they were in.”

The previous jail, in use since 1968, raised human rights concerns from activists and presented security hazards for law enforcement officers.

Voters in 2016 approved a $10.5 million bond to cover the majority of the project. Crook County voters shot down similar measures in 1999 and 2000.

The rest of the funding included $2 million from the county, $1 million from the city of Prineville and loans and grants.

But after funding was secured, construction was delayed several months and design plans were scaled back when soil at the site at NE Court and Second streets was revealed to be too soft. A planned two-story jail was cut to one story, and more than 800 earth-stabilizing piers were added to designs.

The now-former jail was once the Prineville Fire Department station and was last remodeled in 1968. It held 16 male inmates, but with the sheriff’s office regularly overseeing three times that many inmates, the county rented jail beds at the Jefferson County jail in Madras at a cost of $72 per inmate, per day.

This arrangement still didn’t provide enough space for all Crook County inmates. So for the past few years, the jail used a scheduling system that allowed people to serve sentences as jail beds became available, which created scheduling headaches for the sheriff’s corrections division.

Only about one-third of the new jail’s 76 beds are currently occupied, but that number is expected to increase as new inmates are sentenced. Many of those housed in the Jefferson County jail are expected to serve out their sentences there.

The former jail space was rented from the city of Prineville, which still houses its police department and 911 dispatch center in the building.

The old jail was considered unsafe and vulnerable to contraband, sheriff’s employees have said. Doors were still locked with a key carried by a jailer, and towels were used as a stopgap measure to control leaking water pipes. The new high-tech facility was designed with modern security features like computer-controlled door locks and a central control tower.

— Reporter: 541-383-0325,