CANYON CITY - The state Department of Corrections has unveiled a plan to gradually pull its prisoners out of the Grant County Jail, but jail manager Steve McGuire says the departures shouldn't jeopardize the ability to operate the jail.

"I'm not saying we could fill the beds instantly," he said.

However, he said it also doesn't mean the "sky is falling."

McGuire noted that the county has had contracts with other agencies, such as the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, and other Oregon counties for jail beds. That could compensate for some of the lost state business, he said.

In a recent letter to County Judge Mark Webb and Sheriff Glenn Palmer, DOC director Max Williams said the state has sufficient beds for prisoners without the county space. He noted that the overall rate of growth of the prison population has "moderated" and at the same time the state has added a new facility, the Deer Creek Correctional Institution, in Madras.

"The Grant County contract is really the last remaining jail/housing contract in operation, and we have continued it, in part, because we realize the impact it has on your ability to operate your jail," Williams wrote.

However, the recent legislative session dealt a $12 million blow to the DOC budget, forcing some cuts.

As of last Friday, the 41-bed Grant County Jail held 31 inmates - 18 of them housed by the state contract. The county currently receives about an average of $41,000 a month to house prisoners for the state.

Williams outlined a plan to phase out its use of the Grant County facility. The state would reduce its use to 13 inmates by September 2008, and continue ramping down until June 30, 2009, when the last two inmates would be removed.

"By our estimate this would be a total revenue reduction for Grant County ... of approximately $330,000 - as compared to keeping 20 inmates in the jail for the entire period," Williams wrote.

He said he notified the county now in order to give officials time to deal with the issue in the 2008-09 budget process, which begins soon.

He also said that if the DOC's needs increase, he would look again to Grant County's facility.

McGuire said that possibility can't be ignored.

Republican attorney and activist Kevin Mannix has proposed an initiative that would toughen sentencing for many crimes, and the Oregon legislature has proposed its own measure in response. Officials expect those measures to be popular with voters, and that could mean demand for jail space would rise again.

McGuire said the DOC could be "six to 12 years. trying to keep up."

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