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Madras-area residents lobby against prison

During a rally in the Salem Capitol Friday, locals call for a hault in prison construction
News Editor
   Feb. 13, 2002 -- More than 100 turned out at the state Capitol steps in Salem on Friday to lobby against new prison construction. A handful of Madras-area residents were among them.
   As the Legislature meets in its first special session since 1996 to re-balance Oregon's budget in light of a projected $715 million shortfall, several interest groups are weighing in on how to save money.
   Mickey Killingsworth of Madras was among the speakers Friday rallying against new prison construction, including the proposed state corrections facility three miles east of Madras.
   "There were lots of people at the rally," Killingsworth reported. "It was probably the biggest (gatherings) there. It was an interesting coalition. I started my speech as a conservative Republican and that was my big deal, but the coalition -- it was a real broad, different group."
   The news conference was sponsored by the Oregon Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, a broad group that includes farmers, students, religious leaders and prison reform advocates. Their message to state senators and representatives: halt new prison construction to save the state an estimated $3 million to $15 million.
   "My priorities are kids and education," Killingsworth said. "They shouldn't do anything to any (prison) site that isn't completed until they can afford it later on. Dollars are tight now. If you can save $3 million or $10 million or whatever it is -- save it. Put it toward the schools."
   Killingsworth served on the Jefferson County Prison Advisory Committee until her term expired at the conclusion of the committee's January meeting. She also served eight years as Jefferson County's Farm Bureau president. The Oregon Farm Bureau has joined the effort to halt new prisons.
   Killingsworth said she began questioning the need for more prisons in November when the state's economic woes came to light.
   Since Measure 11 passed several years ago, mandatory minimum prison sentences have led to a steadily climbing prison population and the need for more long-term correctional facilities.
   The proposed prison in Madras is one of several facilities slated for construction by the Oregon Department of Corrections.
   Prison construction so far has survived budget cut talks because the money to fund them comes from sales of Certificates of Participation, which are similar to bonds, and are not part of the general fund.
   Members forming the Oregon Criminal Justice Reform Coalition have different agendas. Some want to do away with Measure 11 altogether, but they failed to repeal it in a 2000 referendum. Others say the state needs to be more fiscally responsible.
   "Our proposal is to delay new prisons. We understand that they need prison beds but there are existing prisons that can expand and are planning to expand," said Brigette Sarabi, director of the Western Prison Project and spokesperson for the Oregon Criminal Justice Reform Coalition. "We want them to delay borrowing money to build the new prisons because we have to begin paying back that debt and it's millions of dollars. Let's see if there's other ways to address these needs without going further into debt."
   Prison reform advocates say the Certificates of Participation will increase the state's debt and cost nearly $100 million a biennium in debt payments.
   Madras-area ranchers Dotha and Jerry Patterson also attended the rally as speakers, in hopes that their efforts would help the movement gain steam.
   "I said that originally we got involved with the prison because it was in our back yard and naturally we didn't want it there, but the more we learned about it we decided this prison was a huge economic drain our county doesn't need," Dotha Patterson reported. "People don't realize it's going to cost our county.
   "Seeing all the students and handicapped people that needed funding for care -- it made even less sense to be spending money on prisons when there are so many other needs."
   Ralliers got the attention of some state legislators, including Sens. Bev Clarno (R-Bend), Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day), Kate Brown (D-Portland) plus Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-Canby) and Greg Smith (R-Heppner), who will represent Jefferson County until Jan. 1 but is not seeking re-election in House District 59.
   "The most encouraging thing I heard was from Representative Schrader," Killingsworth said. "He said just because the bonds are lent doesn't necessarily mean they'll be used to build new prisons."
   Dotha Patterson said the coalition got the legislators thinking.
   "For one thing, none of them had ever been out here and they seemed to be appalled at how many millions it was going to cost to prepare the site for infrastructure," she said. "I think some of them are going to be coming out to visit the site."