Closing Santiam Correctional Facility a bad idea

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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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].”


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Posted by at 08:31 | Posted in Crime & Sentencing | 18 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Rupert in Springfield

    >OREGON’S PUBLIC SAFETY SYSTEM IS A SUCCESS – BEGINNING TO DISMANTLE IT BY CLOSING A PRISON FOR $1.6 MILLION IS FOOLISHWhoever wrote this line I think might finally be catching on. As far as government concerns go – Oregon is not about doing what is successful but rather the exact opposite. When roads are falling apart we build bike paths that don’t aid an economy, mass transit only if it is the most expensive and least efficient available, bridges that preferably cost ten times what they should and if possible add no more or less carrying capacity of that which they replace. We increase taxes on those who pay for state workers, then give raises to state workers in an economy where employee retention is not exactly hard, then complain we dont have enough money for essentials. Our central budget priority is not education, public safety or transportation, our highest budget priority is funding the retirement of public employees who made more than most when they were working, and now make more than most when retired. Oregons message is clear – Our main export is jobs, our main priority is public employee unions, and our long range planning strategy is to make Oregon a great place for people rich enough to not need a job to pay the bills.

  • HBguy

    Saves 1.6 million this biennium because its almost half over and the closure isn’t going to happen tomorrow. It saves 8.5 million next biennium. And we can assume the savings go up. Also, It also won’t cause early releases according to DOC. 

    But, I’m impressed that the OAA is concerned about prisoners being overcrowded. Prisoner comfort seems like the last thing the OAA would be concerned about.

    So, this seems like a good smaller government and efficiency issue. Why would we keep multiple prisons open when we can consolidate and reduce operating costs?

    Reality check for everyone. Check out ORESTAR, the OAA is funded mainly by Loren Parks and Kevin Mannix. One could surmise that the OAA position is about keeping as many beds available as possible when the Oregon Commission on Public Safety and the Legislature start to review sentencing alternatives.

    Fewer available prison beds = political cover to modify mandatory minimums.
    Plenty of prison beds = No fiscal reason to be “soft on crime”

  • Ronglynn

    I am a retired Multnomah County Parole and Probation Officer. Furing 26 years until 2003, I supervised thousands of offenders from shop lifters to convicted murderers. I also hold a Masters Degree in the Administration of Criminal Justice from the University of Portland. Since I have retired, I keep track of what is happening in the Criminal Justice System. Just take a look around at what is happening in the world of crime in this state. Take a look at how many people are sent to prison now by the Courts in Oregon’s 36 counties. Many of these people are dangerous offenders.  We will need more prison beds in the future. The forecast is 2000 more by 2020. I would estimate that 4,000 to 5,000 more beds would be more realistic.

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