Salem, Ore. -- When Marion County Jail cells fill up, where do inmates go?
Cody Baird, 20, broke into a Salem man's home March 3, pointed a gun at him and then, as he fled, fired a shot into a nearby home before being caught by police.
Jail overcrowding triggered Baird's release in April, but then he missed his next court hearing and disappeared. He was re-arrested in July after allegedly burglarizing another home and firing a gun in the same South Salem neighborhood.
Casey Miser, 36, was busted with 17 pounds of methamphetamine, 5 pounds of cocaine, 1/4 pound of heroin, 10,000 oxycodone pills and 40 pounds of marijuana on Feb 16. He was jailed on $1.5 million bail, but as cells filled up the next day, Miser was released. Within hours, he was re-arrested at another drug house where police found five pounds of meth and an illegal marijuana grow.
These men's paths to Marion County Jail began differently, but they ended the same: Each was released without posting bail because the jail was nearing its 415-bed limit.
The jail's capacity is determined by its budget. When it reaches the "trigger number" of 403 occupied beds, staff must decide who stays and who's released.
Those deemed safe enough to release, including suspected drug offenders, burglars and those with firearms charges, are freed without bail. This forced release process is common as thousands of inmates pass through the jail every year.
What the public usually hears about, jail officials say, are the worst-case scenarios, like Baird and Miser, when released inmates lash out at their victims, return to crime, escalate in violence or simply vanish.
But records show most releases are successful.
Officials say the program keeps the worst of the worst in jail while addressing racial and economic inequities in Oregon's bail release system. Records also show most defendants don't re-offend during release and show up for their court dates.
The answer may be keeping people out of jail in the first place, officials say.
Consider that jail bookings were reduced from roughly 21,000 in 2009 to 15,000 in 2016 by diverting low-level offenders with addictions and mental health issues into treatment programs, even as crime rates stayed the same.
And while the two-year rate for low-risk defendants reoffending hovers at around 17 percent when they are kept in jail for two to three days, it spikes to 51 percent once jail stays increase to two weeks.
But encouraging statistics do little to reassure crime victims like Terry Dillman, who had to stare down the barrel of Baird's gun. And even with the release program, Marion County Jail still struggles with overcrowding.
"The whole goal is to keep those who pose the greatest risk, and when we do have to make the forced-release decision, we're releasing somebody with lesser risk," said Marion County Sheriff Jason Myers.
Commander Kevin Schultz, who oversees the jail, said more beds won't solve the problem. Even after adding back 15 beds following an earlier reduction in 2011, the jail still had to review its release criteria and conduct forced releases.
"Even if we had additional beds, we would still be in the same situation where we would have to ... let some people out," said Marion County Undersheriff Troy Clausen.
Sometimes that means keeping a domestic abuser in jail and away from his victim while releasing a nonviolent drug offender or suspected burglar. This "people over property" rule is a recurring theme in the Public Safety Checklist, a tool developed by the Oregon Department of Corrections and Oregon Criminal Justice Commission that determines an offender's risk of being rearrested or reconvicted.
"Releases are a fact of life," Myers said. "We're trying to make the best decision possible for the community."
'Unsafe, unfair, ineffective'
Americans have been putting a price tag on inmates' freedom for centuries.
Before it was even a country, the region was locking up suspected criminals for everything from tavern fights to livestock theft and setting bail based on centuries-old English law.
But now, counties across the country are questioning whether jacking up bail to thousands — and sometimes millions — of dollars is really the best way to keep communities safe.
The Maryland-based nonprofit Pretrial Justice Institute labeled America's bail system as unsafe, unfair and ineffective.
"Those with money — regardless of where they got the money or their danger to the community or victims — can purchase their freedom while poor defendants remain in jail pending trial," institute officials said.
And it's not cost effective. The institute estimates that pretrial incarceration "wastes" $14 billion taxpayer dollars each year.
Nationally, six out of every 10 jail inmates have not been sentenced and are awaiting trial. Most of them remain behind bars because they can't afford bail. With limited space, that means more forced releases.
Keeping people in jail also increases their chance of returning to a life a crime later in life.
A study by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, found the longer a defendant is kept in jail, the higher their risk of recidivism.
The Texas foundation suggested two solutions for fixing the "fundamentally incapable" bail system: Replacing costly incarceration with community supervision and using risk assessments to make informed bail decisions.
According to the institute's research, pretrial detention costs about $75 a day. Community supervision costs about $7. It allows defendants to keep their jobs, stay in school and care for their families.
A risk assessment taking a person's criminal history, charges and failure to appear history into account to help judges make informed bail decisions. Fewer than 10 percent of U.S. jurisdictions use any sort of risk-assessment tools before trial, according to the Arnold foundation study.
Marion County is one of them.
The victim's side of forced-release
As one Salem man discovered, the county's release policy doesn't always leave victims feeling safe.
Terry Dillman was working at his home near Church Street SE and Vista Avenue SE on March 3 when heard a loud pounding on his back door followed by loud crack and a crash. He went to investigate the noise and found a stranger standing in his home. The man, Cody Baird, said he was looking for an acquaintance that stole $10,000 from him. Dillman told him he had the wrong home.
Baird told him to call 911 after he left and that insurance would take care of his broken door. Dillman informed Baird that he was going to call police and have him arrested.
"No way, bro," Baird said.
Baird pulled out a 9mm gun and pointed it at Dillman.
Dillman said he remembered thinking: "Please don't pull that trigger."
Just then, Dillman's 90-pound German shepherd walked into the room. He glanced quickly at his dog and when he looked back, Baird was gone.
Gun in hand, Baird fled police through several nearby yards and into Clark Creek Park. During the pursuit, he fired at least one shot, striking a nearby vacant home.
Baird was captured, taken into custody and held on $140,000 bail. Dillman said he was told Baird was considered a public safety risk and wouldn't be released.
But Dillman later found out Baird was released without posting bail because of overcrowding. Baird requested a new court-appointed attorney and his next hearing was set for May 19.
"I had a gut feeling he was not going to show up," Dillman said.
Dillman learned it was not Baird's first run-in with the law. He was arrested on three counts of armed robbery and menacing in 2014 and pleaded guilty to attempted robbery. He was sentenced to two years under the supervision of the Oregon Youth Authority.
"It boggles my mind to even think they'd let him go," Dillman said.
He doesn't want fear to control his life. He ramped up his home security and talked to nearby residents about starting a neighborhood watch.
"We keep an eye on each other," he said.
Should they stay or should they go?
Every day, jail personnel are tasked with calculating how likely an inmate is to hurt, steal, deal drugs or run away.
Each inmate booked into Marion County Jail is given a risk assessment score by staff to determine the likelihood of re-arrest.
The age, gender, current crime, prior arrests, prior incarcerations and severity of past offenses are taken into account when calculating an offender's scores.
The checklist also takes into account details such as whether domestic violence was involved along with the offender's compliance with police and the number of arrests within the past five years.
"We put all of that information into an automated tool and you get a score," said Commander Jeff Wood, who oversees parole and probation in the Marion County Sheriff's Office.
The tool estimates the re-offending risk of three categories: felony, person crime and property crime. The lower the score, the lower the risk.
The jail implemented risk score assessment in 2011, but the score has been applied to roughly 350,000 offenders sentenced to probation or released from jail since 1980.
The risk score alone doesn't trigger release.
The county keeps a list of "no go" charges, like first-degree aggravated animal abuse, arson and manslaughter. Offenders arrested on those charges are not eligible for release under the overcrowding plan if they haven't been arraigned.
Furthermore, the county abides by a "no release before sentencing" list of Measure 11 crimes and domestic violence charges. Those charged with murder, rape, first-degree assault, manslaughter and first-degree criminal mistreatment cannot be released in the event of overcrowding.
The multi-step determination comes in handy when the checklist fails to fully grasp the severity of an inmate's current offense. For example, with little violent criminal history, Amy Robertson, the Keizer woman arrested on suspicion of murdering her 12-year-old son, was ranked as low to medium risk in each category. She scored 2 percent in the felony category, 23 percent in the person crime category and 18 percent in the property crime category.
In comparison, Timothy Calloway, the man sentenced in June for the murder and robbery of a Salem resident, scored 91 percent, 98 percent and 51 percent in the same categories on the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission's online public safety checklist.
But because Robertson's charges are included on the "no release" list, she won't be released during emergency overcrowding situations.
Myers said the jail also relies on arresting agencies to inform jail officials of any public safety risks involving an inmate when they're lodged.
"Granted there are certain crimes that are low risk, but we're still relying on public safety partners to articulate any public safety risks," Myers said.
Improvements to the jail's pretrial decision making may be coming soon.
Marion County Jail reached out to the National Institute of Corrections to consult a technical adviser on pretrial decision making as it relates to determining good candidates for release.
A technical adviser will visit the jail, conduct an assessment and make recommendations to staff on how to improve programs and operations.
Myers said the decision to consult an adviser was born from a long term goal to take a look at the jail's pretrial decision making as it relates to who stays in custody and who would be a good candidate for release.
"If they have recommendations we may enhance some services around supervising that population, as funding allows," Myers said.
Myers said the adviser will work collaboratively to help implement recommendations with a group of law enforcement officers, judges, the county commissioner, district attorneys and Marion County Sheriff's Office staff.
While the jail has been planning this assessment since fall 2016, Myers said the adviser should be visiting sometime soon.
Out of jail, into treatment
While jail officials understand their role in barring the most violent offenders from the general public, they acknowledge jail doesn't work for all inmates. A number of inmates, Myers said, benefit far more from treatment.
Besides implementing a system that helps prevents overcrowding, Undersheriff Clausen said the proactive solution lies in diverting people with drug or alcohol addictions or mental health issues away from jail and into treatment.
By diverting offenders of low-level crimes, Myers said Marion County Jail has achieved a significant reduction in bookings.
"We've really moved the needle by referring people and doing a warm hand off to community services," Myers said, including the Crisis Outreach Response Team and the Mobile Crisis Response Team.
The Crisis Outreach Response Team, a collaboration with the Marion County Sheriff's Office and the Health Department, connects individuals with counseling services, alcohol and drug treatment and peer mentor support as an alternative to jail time.
When making initial contact with an individual who may be experiencing a mental health problem or a drug induced issue, law enforcement's goal is to determine other avenues to get treatment or seek assistance without having to take a trip to jail.
"We try to provide services to those individuals ... rather than just keeping them locked up with little to no services basically and essentially just waiting for that court date to come, and then release them back into the public with no plan," Clausen said.
Clausen said the only reason one of these individuals would be taken to jail is if there was a criminal charge that needed to be addressed. Instead, these teams push for individuals to seek community-based help, including the Psychiatric Crisis Center's services that are available 24-7 to Mid-Willamette Valley residents.
Clausen said Marion County is attempting to access federal grants to pay for its own program like Seattle Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, to divert people from jail and provide services to help people overcome addiction.
The Marion County Sheriff's Office has spent the last three years trying to figure out how to put a program like this in place, but cost has been the main factor preventing the idea to come to fruition.
The county has offered sobering services in the past, which allowed individuals under the influence of alcohol or drugs to get sober, but the cost and liabilities that came with those services resulted in a halt.
The sheriff's office roughly estimates the cost to run a successful sobering and detox program would be between $800,000 and $1 million per year.
By the numbers
- $20,000,000 -- Marion County Jail annual budget
- 15,000 annual jail bookings
- 415 budgeted beds in Marion County Jail
- 144 budgeted beds in the Marion County Transition Center
- 84 deputies total between Marion County Jail and Marion County Transition Center
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