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Prison funding surviving legislative review so far

Department of Corrections officer testifies in front of Senate Rebalancing Committee
News Editor
   Funding for the proposed Madras-area prison remains intact after surviving the first round of budget reduction talks in Salem, Sen. Bev Clarno, R-Bend, told The Pioneer Thursday.
   Department of Corrections Director Dave Cook testified in front of the state's Budget Rebalancing Committee that day and presented a plan that would reduce the agency's budget by 10 percent through hiring freezes, service cuts and the closures of six minimum security prisons. But Cook said these reductions will not derail plans to build the prison three miles east of Madras off Ashwood Road or others like it, Clarno reported.
   A softening economy is forcing the state to pare about $720 million from its biennium budget. Cuts are expected in nearly every area of state government.
   Many Jefferson County residents eager for the economic stimulus that a state prison project would bring were worried that the state's fiscal difficulties might derail the project.
   The DOC's proposal to close six corrections facilities, which accounts for 1,282 beds, raised eyebrows by those wondering how the agency could build more prisons when it didn't have enough money to operate those it already had.
   But funding for construction of the Madras-area prison is secure through a process similar to bonds and is not part of the state's General Fund.
   Furthermore, since ground breaking is slated for January of 2003 and the facility won't begin operating as a 400-bed minimum security prison until 2004, during the next budget biennium, DOC officials are confident the Madras prison funding won't be tampered with. The state could always climb out of its recession in the meantime, they note.
   "The info I was given was that the projects are all still online," said Becky Lu Hummer, the DOC's Jefferson County Community Development Coordinator. "We came out of the committee meeting with them apparently not recommending the projects be cut outside of what our recommendations are."
   A spokesperson for the DOC in Salem also said Jefferson County residents shouldn't anticipate the prison project being scrapped unless there is a major shift in policy. Inmate populations have steadily increased since Measure 11, a mandatory minimum sentencing initiative, was passed in 1994.
   "Prison construction schedule depends on inmate populations, and they're increasing." said Parrin Damen, Communications Manager for DOC. "The prison construction schedule stands."
   The Department of Corrections is hoping the Legislature's committees will recommend only a 7.6 percent reduction in its budget, thereby maintaining the six prisons on the chopping block.
   Hummer said the DOC is capable of acting like an "accordion" -- finding ways to house inmates despite facility cuts.
   The 453-acre site of the proposed Madras prison is scheduled to eventually contain a 200-acre, 1,300-bed medium security facility after phase II of construction. That is expected to create an estimated 500 full-time jobs at the prison with a payroll totaling more than $22 million when fully upgraded by June of 2006.