Expect to vote on in May: Justice System Improvement Program will cost Benton County residents $110 million


Photo courtesy of DLR Group.

Skand S., News Contributor

Clarification:  A previous version of this article stated the mental health crisis center would be dependent on the bond measure passing as well as the distribution of the 110 million included in the bond. The article has been updated to reflect this as of 2:00 p.m. on Feb. 22.

The Benton County Board of Commissioners set the bond measure for the Justice System Improvement Program at $110 million. Benton County residents can expect to vote on this proposed measure this May. 

According to Xan Augerot, vice chair of the Benton County Board of Commissioners, the JSIP’s goal is to improve outcomes in terms of individuals that are justice involved, and in terms of safety for the entire community in an equitable, effective and efficient manner.

The conceptualization of JSIP began in 2018 and the design for the proposed justice campus was finalized in April 2021. JSIP consists of programs and facilities aimed at improving the outcomes of individuals involved with the justice system.

The total proposed cost for the program is estimated at $179 million and according to Augerot, an average household in Corvallis would have to pay $142 per year on average. This number, however, would vary depending on the value of the property.


Pretrial services– for adults who are arrested to combat the high rate of people failing to appear in court. According to the 2019 Benton County Criminal Justice Assessment report, the county had 16.3% of people failing to appear in court in 2017.

One reason given by Sheriff Jef Van Arsdall, Benton County sheriff, was the lack of space in the Benton County Jail to hold people. 

“Even when I started in 1997, I was trained to cite and release people versus taking them to jail, because it shuts the jail down,” said Van Arsdall.

The lack of space in the facility, according to Van Arsdall, is because the current Benton County jail was built in 1976 as a holding transfer facility with the idea of building a regional jail – which never happened.

The current jail has 40 beds, however, not all of them can be occupied in reality – owing to several reasons including different cells for men and women, and the occasional need for isolated cells. The maximum capacity that the jail has seen in the past two years is around 35-36 adults.

In addition to the beds in the facility, the county also rents out 10 beds from the Polk County Jail and according to the Van Arsdall, those beds are always occupied.

Lt. Jeremy Jewell of the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, while giving the tour of the jail pointed to several water leaks and clusters of conduit pipes that were put for installation of new electrical systems.

“Just maintaining the building is a major issue,” Jewell said. 

As the facility is old, any amends to the electrical lines would require breaking of the walls and working from scratch.

Other programs: Mental health services to address the needs of people in the community that may be a danger to themselves or others.

To address this, the Behavioral Health Department and the Corvallis Police Department are jointly working to build a “CORE team” to respond to people in behavioral health crises with one mental health professional and one police officer.


Mental Health Crisis Center- Is in downtown Corvallis for people who want mental health services. This facility is going to be open for all and is expected to open in the latter half of 2024.

“It could be a family member that takes someone there, it could be the person themselves that decides they really need to go, they know that they are starting to fall apart,” Augerot said.

According to Augerot, there is no such facility in the county and currently the hospital emergency room serves the function of the mental health crisis center. 

“That’s the wrong place for someone in mental health crisis, that’s (the) wrong professionals in the wrong environment and very, very expensive care,” Augerot said.

The crisis center would be located on the corner of NW 4th Street and NW Van Buren Ave and will be able to accommodate 10-14 people.

Other facilities in the JSIP include the new courthouse and district attorney’s office which are not a part of the bond measure. The state of Oregon and the county will share the costs equally for their construction.

Navigation center– center acting as a “front door” for people that are unhoused – a place to go to get basic resources and to be during the day, since a lot of the shelters are only nighttime.

According to commissioner Augerot, the navigation center would have offices that will be used by other nonprofits and other agencies, which can help support the homeless community all at the same place. 

In addition to the offices, the plan is also to have about six to eight emergency overnight rooms which will be reserved for people who are very fragile such as people who have had a recent surgery and are homeless or transgender or non-binary folks who don’t fit in the men’s or women’s shelter.

Andrea Myhre, the executive director of Corvallis Housing First who is also a part of the Community Advisory Committee for JSIP said although she is not on board with the idea that jails are a solution to homelessness, she believes that including the funding for navigation center and the mental health crisis center are a key to make JSIP work.

“We strive to provide housing and services to people that are needed by those folks. And we feel that by having a facility that allows for additional services, that’s what we need,” said Myhre.


The proposed costs for the entire JSIP program is around $180 million, out of which $110 million is covered by the bond measure and the rest is through other sources such as the state of Oregon, county, and fundraisers.

  • $171 million for the Community Safety and Justice Campus which includes:
  • $65 million for the construction of the new courthouse and the DA’s office 
  • $64.3 million for the construction of a new jail 
  • $4.5 million combined for the homelessness navigation center and youth mental health services
  • $40.4 million for the construction of a new Sheriff’s office and emergency operations center 
  • $800k to cover bond insurance costs 

Despite the inclusion of several facilities to tackle mental health and provide temporary shelter, not everyone in the community is happy.

Brandon Gelvin, a Ph.D. student at Oregon State University in law & crime policy believes that as much as the issue regarding the jail being too small and old is a legit concern –  funding for law enforcement and the courts that far overshadows the amount provided for behavioral health support and social services is an ineffective way to address crime.

“If we really want to stop crime and promote public safety, we need to address the root causes of crime, which often are economic hardship, homelessness, substance addiction and other behavioral health concerns,” Gelvin said.

In addition to the funding disparity, Gelvin also believes that voters can be “tricked” into thinking they are supporting desperately needed social services in Benton County, while in actuality giving most of the relevant money to what are already some of the better funded government institutions.

On the other hand, Augerot believes that it is important to keep systems accountable and the current jail, owing to its problems – lacks it.

“We want to make sure that we have a system where we really get people the help they need. But we also hold the people that commit crimes accountable for their crimes,” Augerot said.

If the measure is approved in May, the current jail would be demolished and a parking lot – contingent on the public hearings, would be constructed. The CPD is intending on taking over the shared building once the Sheriff’s new office is constructed.

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