Jefferson County residents can be forgiven if the recent defeat of a jail operating levy sounds way too familiar. In fact, more often than not it’s taken more than one try to persuade voters to pay to keep the county jail running. Tuesday they voted down an operating levy by more than a 25-percent margin.
They’ll get a chance to try again in May 2019, and that’s a good thing. Without the levy, there’s money enough to house only about 25 men and women in the facility, and there are often 50 or so Jefferson County residents being held.
The imbalance — too many bad guys and too little money — has led to some uncomfortable choices in the past and almost surely would do so again.
The worst is matrixing, a way of measuring risk factors to decide who is held and who released until trial or, often, until another crime is committed. With the ability to house only 25 in jail, matrixing almost surely would have to be used to decide who stays and who goes.
County residents have had to deal with matrixing before. The jail was built in 2000, but it took the county three tries to persuade voters to pay to operate the facility, and opening was delayed until the following year.
That struggle led then-Sheriff Jack Jones to tell a reporter, “‘catch and release’ (finally) means fishing and has nothing to do with public safety.”
Since then, county residents have been shielded from the full cost of the jail because Crook County rented beds for its prisoners, a practice that will end next year.
Filling in the financial gap is what Tuesday’s levy would have done, and if residents hope to avoid matrixing again, they’ll have to be more generous come May.