Sheriff: Public safety hinges on jail levy 

In May, voters will choose whether or not to renew Lane County’s public safety levy, which county officials say funds over half of the operational cost for the Lane County Jail, as well as counseling and other mental health services.

That money helps maintain 255 usable jail beds, eight youth detention beds and eight youth treatment beds, according to Lane County Sheriff Cliff Harrold. It also funds 78% of the cost of mental health services provided within the jail.

“Our agency partners recognize that having a properly functioning jail is the hub of an effective public safety network,” Harrold said. “Instead of being able to catch someone early in their criminality, connect them with a lawyer or a probation officer that can redirect them down a good path, we create a revolving door and a person continues down the negative path of criminality.” 

Inmates in the Lane County Jail participate in one of the jail’s wellness programs, aimed at establishing prosocial behavior and builds conflict resolution skills – the Jail Funding Levy on the ballot this May funds 78% of the jail’s mental health services. BOB WILLIAMS / THE CHRONICLE

Before the levy first passed in May 2013, the county jail operated 125 beds for local offenders. 

The levy was put in place to limit the number of adult offenders released due to capacity restraints, and is one of the key reasons for renewal, LCSO officials say. 

“Pre-levy in 2013, we were unable to hold even Measure 11, and violent felony offenders,” Harrold said. “Since the levy passed in 2013, we have not released a single Measure 11 or violent felony offender.”

Measure 11 offenders are those who have committed assault in the first and second degree, murder, manslaughter, robbery, rape, sex abuse or kidnapping. While capacity-based releases were not fully stopped until March of 2022, Harrold said that “LCSO hasn’t released any violent felony offenders because of capacity issues since the levy has been in place.” 

More than 5,000 inmates were released, including some potentially violent ones.

“The reality is, if this doesn’t pass, our job will be decimated again,” Harrold said. “I personally worked on a homicide case where a man bludgeoned another man to death with a chunk of firewood outside of Oakridge — and that person was capacity-based released from our jail, pre-levy. And I think those are the sorts of people that the community would not want released.” 

At 55 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, the levy would draw in around $19 million a year and cost the average homeowner about $118 each year, based on a median assessed value of around $214,500. The renewal rate is the same as the current levy – so no additional cost will come to taxpayers. 

Today, the jail operates 367 beds and runs an innovative mental health program, aimed at supporting inmates. Harrold says he’s proud of how LCSO has changed the way they address who is in custody. 

“The criminal justice system is not well-designed to help people with a mental health crisis,” he said. “None of this would be possible without the 78% of our medical mental health contract that is paid for with the levy.” 

On the 3rd floor of the Lane County Jail. BOB WILLIAMS / THE CHRONICLE

The wellness program employs five mental health licensed professionals, two mental health sergeants, provides group therapy sessions and helps establish prosocial behavior and builds conflict resolution skills. Capt. Clint Riley was recently awarded the “Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association Jail Commander of the Year Award” for his leadership of the program. 

“We’ve really changed the way we look at some of our management principles,” he said. “What we realized is, so many folks are in our custody, suffering from some mental health issues. And by focusing time and energy into funding this tactical team to deal with that confrontive behavior, we can manage behavior and see real results.” 

Still, industry-wide staffing shortages continue to impact the daily operations of law-enforcement agencies across the state, Harrold said. 

“We don’t believe that it’s time to reduce jail beds,” he said. “We’re also not saying now’s the time to add jail beds, because the future is still a little murky on how some of this incoming legislation impacts our jail – like Measure 110, or Senate Bill 48. I don’t know how full we’d be if Eugene and Springfield Police Departments were fully staffed. Every Sheriff in the state is watching their jail population, trying to figure out the new normal, and we’re not quite sure what the new normal is. But we’re going to continue to maintain our commitment to public safety, regardless of the landscape.”

Sheriff Harrold will be attending public information sessions over the next few months to advocate for the levy — on April 18 at 6:30 p.m., he’ll be at Creswell High School, and April 25 at 6:30 p.m. he’ll be at Cottage Grove High School. More information can be found at