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Empty Oregon Jail Has Cost $1.25 Million; Grand Jury Demands Humility and Creative Solutions

Empty Oregon Jail Has Cost $1.25 Million; Grand Jury Demands Humility and Creative Solutions

by Mark Wilson

The Wapato Jail in Multnomah County, Oregon was completed in 2004 at a cost of $58 million, but has sat empty ever since because the county can’t afford to operate the facility.
On December 18, 2008, a Special Corrections Grand Jury issued a report calling the never-used 525-bed jail an embarrassment, and recommending that the county offer a reward to anyone who offers a viable solution.

“Year after year, nothing seems to get done and budget constraints always seem to be the reason,” the report stated. Given that budget deficits won’t be improving anytime soon, the county must get creative, said grand juror Vickie Cogill.

“It’s costing $25,000 a month for basically mowing the lawn,” Cogill noted. “That’s ridiculous for me as a taxpayer.” To date, maintenance on the vacant jail over the past four years has topped $1.25 million, with another $379,000 earmarked for the next fiscal year.

“We strongly believe that the issue of the ongoing maintenance fee ... should not be an issue with which the 2009 Corrections Grand Jury needs to deal,” the report declared. The Grand Jury called on county officials to show some humility and admit they need help.
“We thought the county should ask for the public’s input,” said Cogill. The grand jurors suggested exploring unconventional solutions, such as leasing the jail out for laser tag, martial arts training, Boy Scout events, office space or storage. The report also expressed concerns about conditions at the county’s dilapidated courthouse jail.

A plan to use part of the Wapato facility for a substance abuse treatment program was criticized by the union that represents corrections deputies, which noted that the Multnomah County Detention Center and Inverness Jail would lose funding and bed space if prisoners were transferred to Wapato. The plan was later scrapped.

Most recently, in March 2009, it was announced that the Oregon Department of Corrections and Multnomah County were discussing using the Wapato Jail to hold female prisoners. The state would pay the county $4 million over a two-year period to house up to 200 female prisoners who are nearing release. Another option is a bill introduced by state Senator Floyd Prozanski (SB 684), which would require Multnomah County to sell the jail to the state. The legislation appropriates only $1.00 to purchase the facility, but includes provisions to determine a fair price.

Presently, however, the Wapato Jail remains empty; it has never housed a single prisoner and stands as a monument to government ineptitude and fiscal irresponsibility.

Sources: The Oregonian, Multnomah County 2008 Corrections Grand Jury Report

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