EUGENE, Ore. -- Jails are supposed to hold people accused of crimes until they go to trial or post bail, a sum of money that secures the accused's release -- and hopefully ensures they will be back in court for their trial.
But what happens when the suspect can't post bail and the jail lacks the beds to hold people accused of crimes?
Welcome to Lane County.
Suspects charged with violent crimes, identity thieves and repeat offenders who skip their appearances in court receive "get out of jail free" cards because of lack of funded bed space at the Lane County jail.
Officials say budget cuts in July brought the number of beds for local inmates down to 93. A few more beds were added in September using money bugeted for the forest work camp, which was closed by the sheriff's office.
Entire sections of the jail remain closed, however, due to a lack of funding for staff to keep those jail beds open.
"Police officers continue to arrest the same people over and over because we can't hold them," said Sheriff Russ Burger. "They get arrested, they get released."
Here's the trend: 2,700 Lane County jail inmates were given early releases last year. This year, the number is expected to double. Next year, jail managers expect the number to balloon to 5,800.
Who gets released? Officials call them capacity based releases. They use computer programs and face-to-face interviews to determine which accused criminals pose the highest risk to the public.
"All of those individual categories are added up and that comes up with a capacity based released score," said Captain Doug Hooley with the sheriff's office.
The jail tries to keep the worst of the bad guys behind bars, but that only goes so far.
"We're projecting this year that we're going to be releasing about 54 percent of our offenders will be in the category of being a high risk danger to the community," Hooley said.
An associated problem: some inmates who are released don't bother showing up for Lane County court appearances.
"So we're at the point now where we're over 35 percent fail to appear," said Alex Gardner, the Lane County district attorney-elect. "We have some people who fail to appear 6, 8, 9 times -- at tremendous cost."
How many jail beds Lane County can afford to maintain is uncertain, even given restoration of county support payments from the federal government, said County commissioner Bill Dwyer.
"Jail beds will be an option but how many we'll buy and how we'll do it," he said, "that's only one part of the system."
"Bottom line is that we're safer than we would be if we lived in the Watts area," Gardner said, "but we're a lot worse off than we were last year or the year before last."
Sheriff Burger said the final answer is more money for the jail that doesn't depend on the up and down county general fund. Burger said funding could come from a ballot measure for a county wide service district or a tax levy strictly dedicated to the jail, but for now it's just in the idea stage.