ST. HELENS, Ore, -- The sheriff of Columbia County says the jail could shut down within a few months if the sheriff’s office doesn’t get a sudden influx of cash.
At a public hearing in St. Helens Tuesday night, the vast majority people in attendance reiterated what they said with their ballots in November: They don’t want to pay more taxes to lock up inmates.
So Sheriff Jeff Dickerson said the jail may have to close in June.
“Anything from attempted murder to attempted rape, child abuse, child sex abuse, these types of charges, we’re only going to be able to keep about half of them in custody,” Dickerson said. “The other half we’re going to have to release if the jail has to close.”
Of the 250 beds at the Columbia County Jail, only 25 are used to house local arrests. Much of the remainder of the space is used by the federal government for its inmates.
When the county has more than 25 people to lock up, it has to let someone go. It doesn’t have the enough money to jail more inmates.
Dickerson said because voters rejected a $9.5 million levy to fund the jail, he’ll have to shut the jail down, sending federal inmates away and keeping Columbia County’s 10 most violent criminals to Dallas, Ore., two hours away.
“It is nothing but a bully tactic,” said St. Helens resident Nancy Whitney. “They are using that to scare us into voting for it. That’s truly what I believe.”
Some people want to put the matter to the voters again in May and try to keep the jail open. Dickerson said he expects criminals from elsewhere to keep showing up in Columbia County, where they know its unlikely they’ll spend the night in jail.