North Albany residents may see a bond measure in 2022 aimed at addressing Benton County's justice system.
During a Monday presentation before the Albany City Council, Project Manager Ari Basil-Wagner highlighted some of the challenges faced by the system nationwide and, more specifically, in Benton County.
Basil-Wagner was hired by the county as part of Greater Oregon Behavioral Health Inc., along with Karl Becker of CGL, a national corrections planning and design firm, to study the county's justice system after a $25 million bond measure to replace the county’s 40-bed jail failed in 2015. The two gave a presentation that year about possible options.
“Prevention resources are very limited,” Basil-Wagner said Monday, adding that as a researcher, it was interesting to find that person-to-person violent crimes in the county were still lower in proportion to other crimes, but growing at a faster rate than any other crime.
Paired with the absence of pretrial programs, low bed availability and a failure-to-appear rate that’s three times the national average, the Benton County justice system, Basil-Wagner felt, warranted study. She said the issue was one of community safety.
She told the council on Monday that a long-term solution included a possible new jail or remodel of an existing facility.
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“What facilities are we talking about for Benton, what location, how do we engage the community and what’s the cost?” she said.
The timeline includes hiring a firm to help with the predesign process, a step that would be taken mid-February. That would be followed by cost estimates and, eventually, a bond measure in May or November 2022.
Basil-Wagner said she was speaking to the Albany City Council, located in Linn County, because North Albany residents live in Benton County and would be subject to the bond. Also, she said, there will be opportunities for community engagement surrounding the process, and that the challenges the system faces are much bigger than Benton County.
During Monday’s meeting, in response to questions from Councilor Dick Olsen, Basil-Wagner said the jail has limited capacity and that the justice system faced challenges nationwide. In Benton County, she said, 33% of people arrested are cited and released.
“Instead of coming into the system and being processed, a person is given a citation, released and told to come to court on this day,” she said. “The likelihood of them not coming is very high.”
Short-term solutions, according to Basil-Wagner, include the possibility of respite or sobering centers and an effort to address mental health through community partnerships. Electronic monitoring, work release and a validated risk and needs assessment tool were also discussed as possible short-term projects.
Opportunities to participate, Basil-Wagner said, would be advertised on the county website. Interested residents are encouraged to email email@example.com to be added to a mailing list.