Oregon Anti-Crime Alliance
The published budget rebalance plan for the February session of the Oregon legislature has a one-line statement saying: “DOC – Closure of one small facility; no prisoner release.” “DOC” means Department of Corrections, and this sounds like no big deal, until one finds out that the “small” facility is the Santiam Correctional Institution which houses over 400 inmates. Furthermore, these prisoners will be sent to other facilities, and many of them will be housed in “temporary beds” and/or “emergency beds.” Simply put, this is code for crowding these inmates into other prisons not designed to handle the increased number of inmates that will be in them. Legislators are currently working on the budget, and this “rebalance” plan is not final, although it was put together by the co-chairs of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.
CROWDING PRISONS LEADS TO BAD RESULTS
While closing the Santiam Correctional facility won’t make us the State of California that has huge correctional crowding problems, complete with Federal Court intervention to reduce crowding, it moves us closer to this undesirable situation. Here are some of the immediate problems that closing the Santiam Correctional facility will cause.
- Increased risk of and probably more assaults/fights by inmates, as more inmates are crowded together.
- Increased risk of and probably more assaults of corrections officers by inmates, as the officers have to supervise more inmates living in crowded conditions.
- Additional investigative resources needed to investigate the additional assaults.
- The community reintegration programs at the Santiam facility, including drug and alcohol treatment, cognitive and educational programs, and supervised work crews, will come to an immediate halt. If society expects released inmates to be crime free in the future, it is critical that they receive these programs in prison.
- Inmates at the Santiam facility who are doing well in programs will be uprooted from a good situation and put into a crowed situation.
PRISON POPULATION FORECAST REQUIRES MORE BEDS NOT FEWER BEDS
According to the October 2011 Oregon prison population forecast, “The number of inmates housed in Oregon’s prisons, currently about 14,000, is expected (to) grow to 16,000 inmates by the end of the decade, with much of that growth occurring over the next four years.” Although I believe the forecast for more prison beds may be high, as it has been in the past, the forecast has consistently and correctly predicted the upward trend. Frankly, it makes no sense to close the 440-bed Santiam Correctional Facility and crowd inmates into other prisons when the forecast says these beds, and more, are needed now, and in the near future.
CLOSURE CREATES SMALL SAVINGS THIS BIENIUM
After reading all the reasons above, which make a good case for not closing the Santiam Correctional Facility, one would think the immediate savings must be large to take such drastic action. In fact, the legislative fiscal office predicts closing the Santiam Correctional facility will only save $1.6 million this 2011-2013 biennium. While this is a lot of money to us as individuals, it is small when compared to the $1.3 billion Department of Corrections budget. Surely there is less drastic action the Department of Corrections can take to save 1.6 million dollars.
GIVE THE NEW DIRECTOR A CHANCE TO MANAGE
Governor Kitzhaber just appointed Colette Peters as the new Oregon Director of Corrections. She effectively led the Oregon Youth Authority through downsizing over the last two plus years and deserves a chance to manage downsizing, if it must be done, at the Department of Corrections. The legislature should allow her to manage the $1.6 million reduction within the Department of Correction’s budget, if they cannot find the money elsewhere.
OREGON’S PUBLIC SAFETY SYSTEM IS A SUCCESS – BEGINNING TO DISMANTLE IT BY CLOSING A PRISON FOR $1.6 MILLION IS FOOLISH
- Oregon’s benchmarks for public safety show better progress since 2003 than in any of the other benchmark categories.
- F.B.I. crime reports show violent crime in Oregon decreased 51.2% from 1995 to 2009.
- A substantial part of Oregon’s phenomenal decrease in violent crime is attributable to increased incarceration of violent criminals and serious sex offenders through Measure 11. This incarceration contribution was estimated by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission to be 25% to 35% of the total decrease in violent crime. Property crime is down over 30% from 1995 to 2009.
Oregon is already a leader in “more cost-effective methods to address crime,” a fact well-elucidated by these remarks from the Pew Center on the States. Speaking at an Oregon legislative hearing on February 15, 2010, Pew Public Safety Performance Project Manager Jake Horowitz said:
- “A lot of good things going on in Oregon:
- Large decreases in crime and a comparatively low violent crime rate,
- Legislative endorsement of evidence-based practices,
- Mandate for administrative sanctioning and community supervision including probation and parole,
- Solid data and research on which to ground debates on these policies, and overall a modest incarceration rate [emphasis added]
- And it is nationally viewed that Oregon has made good use of probation and parole and has largely prioritized its prison space for violent offenders as opposed to lower-level drug and property offenders [emphasis added].”
ONLY 23% OF CONVICTED FELONS GO TO PRISON. THE REMAINING 77% ARE GIVEN PROBATION.