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The revolving door.

Byline: The Register-Guard

S t r e t c h e d t o t h e l i m i t

An effective, progressive public safety system entails more than keeping bad guys behind bars. It includes an array of essential services ranging from substance abuse and mental health treatment to parole and probation.

But make no mistake, corrections remains the foundation of any viable criminal justice system. Strip away the capacity to consistently and uniformly hold offenders accountable and keep them off the streets, and even the best-designed system will unravel.

If, for example, a suspect charged with a dozen counts of auto theft is released less than 24 hours after he's booked into an overcrowded jail, then the system is failing to protect the community. It is sending a message to criminals that they can operate with impunity.

If a judge releases a methamphetamine addict on condition that he receive treatment and he refuses to comply, then that sentence is absurdly meaningless unless the judge can punish the offender by sending him back to jail.

If a convicted offender repeatedly violates terms of his parole and there is no custody consequence, then the system devolves into a procedural sham.

Lane County's public safety system has a severely stressed - many would argue broken - corrections foundation. As a result of years of inadequate funding and rising expenses, the county's corrections capacity has actually decreased, while its population has grown. Offenders are routinely not held accountable and local officials derisively refer to the "revolving door" at the county jail.

Last year, 3,714 inmates were released prematurely because of overcrowding - more than a fourth of the total jail population. This year, releases are on a pace to hit the 4,000 mark.

As might be expected, Lane County fares poorly in comparison with the rest of the country. A recent study by the independent Public Safety Coordinating Council found that convicted felons in Lane County spend an astonishing 14 percent as much time in jail as the national average.

A recent federally funded study found that Lane County has 127 fewer jail beds than nine similar counties nationwide. While the comparison counties averaged 28 arrests annually for every jail bed, Lane County nearly doubled that number with 51.6 arrests, a statistic that reflects that rapid turnover in the inmate population.

More signs of a public safety system that's stretched to the limit.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Editorials; County lacks sufficient corrections capacity
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Oct 12, 2006
Previous Article:Measure 43: No.
Next Article:Mental health system due for radical reform.

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