Lane County levy means many fewer released from jail for overcrowding

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EUGENE, Oregon — Thanks to a tax increase, the revolving door doesn't swing so freely these days at the Lane County Jail.

The county has released data from the first full fiscal year since voters approved a property tax increase to restore staff and capacity at the jail. They show a marked decrease in prisoners released because of overcrowding.

About a fourth as many people were released for capacity reasons as in the previous 12-month period: About 1,300 as compared with about 5,100.

Nobody among 144 inmates held for trial on the most serious charges was released, the Eugene Register-Guard ( reported.

Like many Oregon counties that used to depend on federal subsidies from timber production, Lane County has struggled in recent years to provide basic services, notably law enforcement. But voters in most of those counties have been reluctant to raise taxes to make up the difference.

In May 2013, Lane County voters approved a new levy by 57 percent to 43 percent.

It was narrowly drawn, limited just to increasing jail capacity. Nine previous measures for broader purposes, such as officers and courts, had failed, dating to 1998.

The levy brought in about $13 million its first year, allowing the county to hire enough new employees nearly to double the number of available jail beds, to 256. Fully funded, the jail can house more than 500.

The levy also allowed the county to double the number of beds in its Juvenile Justice Center, to 32.

The levy amounts to about $85 a year on a home assessed at $154,809, the median Lane County value.

The county hopes to seek new funds when the levy expires, after five years, said Sgt. Carrie Carver, a sheriff's office spokeswoman.

"We will continue to seek stable funding to run the jail, at least at this capacity, if not more robustly, through another levy or another sustainable funding option," Carver said. "We're still looking at all of our options, but ultimately it will be up to the community."

Information from: The Register-Guard,

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