In 2015, Benton County voters defeated a bond measure, for the third time in 15 years, to construct a new corrections facility. Based on feedback from the public during and after the 2015 bond campaign the Board of Commissioners requested a comprehensive study of the justice system to evaluate the County’s justice system from the first point of contact to return to our community.
In early 2017, Benton County posted a Justice System Master Plan Request for Qualifications. Five firms expressed interest, three firms were invited to submit proposals and two firms came on-site in September 2017 to make presentations to the proposal selection committee and meet one-on-one with the County Commissioners. On October 17, 2017, members of the Selection Committee made a recommendation to the Board of Commissioners to move forward with CGL, an award-winning consulting firm that develops solutions for criminal justice systems and public facilities. The Benton County Board of Commissioners voted (3-0) to direct Joe Kerby, Benton County Administrator, to negotiate the project scope and cost with CGL. Their proposal for Benton County’s criminal justice system was a four-phase approach including documenting current system conditions, conducting a needs assessment, developing solutions, and submitting a final report.
During internal discussions, it became clear that Board of Commissioners office staff lacked the expertise and capacity to manage this large-scale project. Project management was contracted to Greater Oregon Behavioral Health, Inc. (GOBHI), an organization that helps jurisdictions implement and improve efforts to successfully divert individuals with serious behavioral health needs from entering various points within the justice system.
- On January 16, 2018, the Board approved a $171,000 consulting contract for an in-depth assessment of the county’s criminal justice system. CGL received $158,843 for conducting the assessment. An additional $12,000 went to GOBHI for project management services.
- The comprehensive assessment was presented to the Board in January, 2019. Key findings of the assessment are included below. Please note: data references are from 2017.
Key findings of the 2018 Assessment
An effective plan to improve the performance of the Benton County justice system would need a comprehensive approach that addresses program needs and opportunities for improvement in enforcement, justice, and accountability. The pathway toward achievement of justice system improvements should have a plan that coordinates program strategies among social service agencies, law enforcement, custody, the courts, and community corrections.
Demographics and Mental Health Services
The development of in-custody programs for substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy, and education would provide needed opportunities for rehabilitation in jail.
The jail population is predominantly male (85 percent), white (79 percent), relatively young (average age 31), with a majority in pre-trial status (68 percent). The jail does not assess offender program needs and provides minimal program opportunities.
The jail population appears to have a significant number of adults in custody with mental health treatment needs.
Reported crime in Benton County has increased by 28 percent over the last five years. Although violent crimes against persons make up a relatively small proportion of crime, this represents the fastest growing category of offenses. Arrests have declined over the same period. The majority of arrests are for behavioral crimes such as drug use, DUII, or disorderly conduct.
Benton County Probation and Parole supports a wide range of community programs that supervise and provide services for released offenders. The programs are based on evidence-based research and are consistent with best practices and professional standards found in community corrections programs throughout the United States.
The physical condition and layout of the current jail facility is extremely poor. The Benton County Courthouse has serious physical and operational deficiencies. The facility needs to be replaced as soon as possible. The current law enforcement center has numerous building issues that impair law enforcement operations.
The Benton County justice system needs improved data collection and outcome evaluation to support policymaking and resource allocation decisions.
Crime Rate and Need for Jail Capacity is Increasing
Benton County has a higher reported crime rate than its peer comparison group counties, as well as the largest gap between crime rates and arrest rates. Benton County books over 3,000 offenders annually into a jail facility with a capacity of 40 beds. The County relies on contracting for beds at NORCOR, Polk, and Linn Counties to supplement its own jail capacity and spends just over $1 million annually on out of county beds. The average daily jail population (ADP) for the County has been stable, ranging between 60 and 67 adults in custody over the past five years. Slightly more than half of these offenders are housed outside the County.
Assuming current policies remain in place, the County jail population will grow to an ADP of 92 adults in custody by 2040. This population level would require a jail capacity of approximately 120 beds to accommodate population fluctuations, adults in custody management issues, and the elimination of Benton County’s frequent use of matrix and forced release.
Citation and Release Lessens Accountability
Jail staff relies on early release mechanisms to manage the size of the jail population. In 2017, 531 adults in custody were released from jail early through these programs. It is not uncommon for offenders to receive multiple early releases from jail after they have been re-incarcerated for a new offense.
- Benton County law enforcement agencies make extensive use of citation and release due to lack of capacity at the Benton County Jail.
- The use of citation and release should be reduced to approximately 15 percent of arrests to ensure an appropriate public safety response to crimes in the community.
- The Benton County Jail needs to eliminate reliance on forced release to manage jail population levels.
Benton County courts require the ability to effectively sanction persons who fail to appear at court-ordered hearings. However, without capacity, jail-time sanctions are very limited. The result is Benton County’s failure to appear rate is 2-to 3-times national norms.