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No scare tactics, but possiblejail closure is scary

I am writing to you on my concern for the future of our jail and what I believe it will mean for our community. While no one can know for sure the degree to which the loss of the county jail will impact the way we live, I do believe with all my heart that it will be worse than most of us imagine.

by: FILE PHOTO - Columbia County Sheriff Jeff DickersonAs we have seen our jail budget shrink over the last few years, and as we have publicized the early releases of inmates, there have been accusations of “scare tactics” being used to motivate voters out of fear.

I will tell you that I am fearful of what is coming if our jail closes — for the following reasons:

Taking people into custody on a wide variety of misdemeanor and felony charges will largely cease to occur. Last year, more than 1,200 local police arrests were lodged in our jail. Next year, police officers will still arrest and file charges, but they will not be able to find jail space anywhere to hold most law-breakers, even for just one night.

I believe this will cause two things to happen: 1) local people who do not like to play by the rules will be emboldened to flagrantly violate the law, knowing there will be no repercussions; and 2) we will attract the criminal element from outside our county, who will also be emboldened in the same manner.

Crime will increase, and it will be felt. I do not know to what degree it will occur, but I am sure we will all know about more and more instances of lawlessness inflicted upon our community.

Finally, at some point, there will be a call to fund our jail —only the cost will be roughly double to the taxpayer than it would have been if we had just kept it open all along. The reason is the federal prisoners who subsidize our jail (to the tune of $1.5 to $2.1 million per year) will all be gone, along with the revenue they bring in, and taxpayers who have gotten a state-of-the-art, well-run, efficient and effective facility without paying the total cost of the operation, would then be forced to pay the entire amount.

These are not scare tactics, but they are facts that are scary. It is not my intent to overdramatize the risks, or to “advertise to criminals” that it will be open season in Columbia County. The fact is the criminals already know these things. I believe it is my duty as your sheriff to warn you what the future holds, according to my many years of law enforcement experience.

I am committed to executing the will of the people with the resources committed to our care, and we are prepared to close our jail if voters this spring decide not to keep it open with the additional taxes we need to do it. I want to thank those citizens who worked hard gathering signatures to convince our commissioners to give voters one last chance to keep our jail open. I fully believe that if our jail closes, and a year from now we look back at the vote in May, we will not be blaming the commissioners at all for giving it one last try.

If you have any questions, you can contact me through Facebook or e-mail me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Jeff Dickerson is sheriff of Columbia County