- Associated Press - Thursday, June 26, 2014

PRINEVILLE, Ore. (AP) - Crook County doesn’t have enough jail cells for all of its crooks.

So, inmates in the small Central Oregon county being held for trial are released quickly, and even inmates convicted and sentenced can catch a break.

“This individual was sentenced to 20 days by the court,” says Sheriff Jim Hensley, pointing to a list of examples. “He served four hours.”

Just last week, 14 inmates were released early, among them people charged with drug offenses and burglaries, KTVZ-TV (https://bit.ly/1pnypIz) reports.

Hensley said he has a waiting list of 120 people the jail can’t hold.

The jail is at the county seat, Prineville. It consists of 16 beds in a tiny space attached to the city police building. The county also regularly rents 16 jail beds from neighboring Jefferson County.

County voters have a history of rejecting jail levies, but Hensley said the chronic shortage of space is growing worse.

It came up again this week after a man described as a transient was accused of stealing a 1930 Model A Ford and crashing it into the Crooked River. He was released the same day.

Hensley said criminals have become bolder, knowing the odds are against jail time, or even that they’ll suffer if they ignore some sentences that doesn’t include jail.

“If they don’t show up for community service, the only recourse is jail,” Hensley said. “We don’t have any jail space.”

Crook County is looking at converting an old hospital to a jail and justice center or building a new facility. It plans town meetings on the topic. Hensley said the cost could range from $5 million to $13 million.

Mike McCabe, a member of the county commission, said it’s been more than a decade since the county last proposed a jail levy, and the county didn’t want to have another one at the same time as the school district was working on a levy, which has been approved.

Crook County has more than 20,000 residents and ranks 27th in population among Oregon’s 36 counties.

Its ranch, timber and recreation economy has added a high tech touch in recent years with such developments as Facebook and Apple data centers. A property sale to Apple contributed to the county’s capital fund, now at $4 million.

The county was named for George Crook, a U.S. Army general prominent in the Civil War and in battles with Native Americans in the 19th century.

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Information from: KTVZ-TV, https://www.ktvz.com/

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