Ashland's latest attempt to address behavioral issues downtown may turn out to be the least effective — or least cost-effective — yet.
Ashland Municipal Court is preparing to double its court days and add video arraignment capabilities from the Jackson County Jail. The moves come at the request of the Chamber of Commerce, whose members complain that transients smoking, congregating on sidewalks and committing disorderly conduct and other misdemeanor offenses are bad for business.
Attorney Allen Drescher told a City Council study session that Ashland has a reputation in the state as being especially hospitable for transients — a perception he wants to change by making it more likely that violators will wind up in jail.
If only it were that simple. But a misdemeanor arrest doesn't mean jail time, and street people know this. Failure to appear in court triggers an arrest warrant, and under the plan presented to the council, three failures to appear would lead to jail time.
The city contracts for two beds in the county jail, but rarely uses them. The idea is that more court days and more arraignments will mean more transients locked up more often.
But the city pays for those beds, and court days have costs as well — more than triple per Ashland court filing than in Medford or the county, according to a Citizens Budget Committee member.
It's hard to imagine that more use of two jail beds would be enough to make transients avoid Ashland, or even change their behavior much.