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What Will Become Of Wapato Jail?

It’s been 10 years since it was built and Multnomah County’s Wapato Jail has still never been used to house prisoners.

Portland Police have conducted training exercises there. Film and television crews have used it as a location to shoot scenes in a range of different settings — an airport, hospital, police precinct, and more. But in the 10 years since it was built, Multnomah County’s Wapato Jail has still never been used to house inmates.

In 1996, voters approved funding to build the jail through a public safety bond measure and operating money for the facility through a tax levy. In the same year, voters passed property tax reforms, and effectively wiped out the operating funds for Wapato. In 2004, the $58 million jail was completed, but there was no money to open it and the need for a new jail was not as pressing as it had been when the voters approved the funding.

The empty building costs the county at least $300,000 per year to maintain. When outside groups use the space, they are required to reimburse the county for any staff time or maintenance required, but the county doesn’t make a profit from the use of the building.

The saga of Wapato could finally come to an end in 2016 when all the bond money is finally paid back. The county is already exploring its options for selling the facility two years from now. We spoke with county officials about the troubled history of Wapato and what its ultimate fate might be.

Editor’s Note: This show was pre-recorded at Wapato Jail.


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OPB | Broadcast: April 30, 2014