- Associated Press - Friday, September 5, 2014

BEND, Ore. (AP) - Deschutes County commissioners and the county administrator toured the near-complete expansion of the Deschutes County jail on Thursday.

Commissioners Alan Unger, Tammy Baney and Tony DeBone and County Administrator Tom Anderson were careful to avoid wet paint and wires as they were led through the space just south of the existing jail by Deschutes County Sheriff’s Lt. Tracy Jones.

The expansion, adding 22,800 square feet to the 78,000-square-foot jail, includes 144 beds, facilities for medical and mental health services and new laundry machines.

The dormitory area alone spans 21,000 square feet.

An additional 1,800-square-foot component of the expansion includes six new cells, four of which will be dedicated to medical and mental health care and two for suicide monitoring.

Before the facility is up and running in October, construction workers need to put on the finishing touches, installing cabinetry for the command center and security cameras to monitor the dormitory areas, Sheriff Larry Blanton said. As the group toured the space Thursday, seats for the metal tables in the common areas were being fastened and floors were being finished with concrete.

The new facility includes cells that comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act and a recreation area where inmates can get fresh air. New gates lift to allow entry into the secure parking lot.

The $11 million expansion was funded by bonds and the county budget. Construction began in August 2013 after several years of negotiating the size, scope and cost of the new facility. In 2010, a $44 million bond to build a much larger expansion - of more than 900 beds - failed to win voter approval.

Before the tour, various members of the sheriff’s office focused on their efforts to improve behavioral health services and inmate job readiness as part of a performance review of the department.

The office is looking to expand its mental health services over the next fiscal year or two by hiring an additional behavioral health specialist.

“Right now we figure 35 percent of our population has mental health issues,” said Shane Nelson, corrections division commander. “And those are the ones we know about.” Currently two behavioral health specialists work full time at the sheriff’s office.

“We’re dealing with people at the lowest point in their life, and it’s a struggle, frankly,” said Blanton

Nelson also reviewed the job-readiness services the jail provides. Inmates can train for CPR certification and an Oregon food handler’s license, as well as study to get their GED diplomas. And now the sheriff wants to pay for inmates to continue GED training even after they’re out of custody.

The attention the department has paid to the jail expansion is a reflection of efforts to prepare inmates for life beyond bars, Nelson said. Renovating the space serves as an example of “accountability and responsibility” to inmates, he said.

The commissioners were eager to hear about the office’s plans. “This is kind of our long-term outlook,” DeBone said of the performance review. “What direction do we want to send our departments?”

In the vein of countywide planning, sheriff’s employees highlighted partnerships with other county departments. The planned expansion of the Deschutes County Circuit Court and hiring of an additional judge would help the jail, said Jones, of the sheriff’s office. “Eighty-five to 90 percent of our population is pretrial,” she said. The move could increase procedural capacity in court, which would keep inmates moving through the facility more quickly.

After the tour, the commissioners and sheriff’s employees watched a construction worker adjust the newly installed gates.

“We’re pretty proud of it,” said Blanton, surveying the new building.

On Oct. 1, the office will hold a ribbon-cutting, followed by a reception for families of sheriff’s employees Oct. 2 and a fundraiser for wounded veterans Oct. 3.


The original story can be found on The Bulletin’s website: https://bit.ly/1t9MsPb

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