PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Jails in rural Oregon have high numbers of female inmates, and the glut is presenting challenges for many sheriffs who don't have enough room to house them.
A Lincoln County Jail cell
Corrections experts say methamphetamine and certain sentencing policies may be the top reasons why so many Oregon women are in county jails compared with other states.
Women made up nearly 29 percent of the jail population in Crook County last year. They also totaled nearly 27 percent in Jefferson and Malheur counties, the Oregonian reported. That compares with a 22 percent state average and 12 percent national average.
Rural sheriffs say they need to get creative to accommodate both men and women in their jails and keep them separated.
In Union County, the increase in female inmates began about five years ago, and now ``we're almost never below 10 percent,'' said Capt. Craig Ward, Union County's undersheriff in charge of the jail in La Grande.
He said empty beds set aside for women sometimes means the jail must release male inmates even if there is available bed space in the women's cellblock.
At Lincoln County Jail in Newport, 23 of 161 beds are set aside for women. When they're full, an inmate usually gets released early to avoid an overflow into the men's cell blocks, said Lt. Jamie Russell, jail spokeswoman and also president of the Oregon Sheriff's Jail Command Council.
The road to Malheur jail
Corrections experts say there are a number of reasons for the influx.
Many Oregon judges use county jails and community corrections programs for drug and property offenders, and that tends to steer female offenders into jails rather than state prison, where more violent offenders go, said Craig Prins, executive director of the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission.
About one-third of the meth possession convictions in 2008-2009 were women, he said.
``We have had a meth problem for years and years,'' Prins said.
In rural areas, there area fewer alternatives to jail time, and nonviolent crime may attract more attention than in urban areas.
``Forgeries, embezzlement, those types of things have gotten a lot of women into the jails,'' said Malheur County Undersheriff Brian Wolfe in Vale.
He said the trend could reflect a tendency by rural residents to act when they spot crimes, even when the perpetrator is a woman.
Ladonna Lauricella, a Union County Jail inmate serving time for stealing drugs, has noticed an increase in female inmates since her last time in jail a few years ago.