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Prison to remain closed

DRCI medium-security facility

by: Photo by Holly M. Gill - The 1,223 beds in Deer Ridge Correctional Institution’s medium-security facility will remain empty for the foreseeable future under the governor’s budget proposal.

Under a budget proposal released in December by Gov. John Kitzhaber, the medium-security portion of Deer Ridge Correctional Institution would not be funded for at least the next two years.
   The governor's plan is a departure from the Oregon Department of Correction's announcement in 2011 that the 1,223-bed medium-security prison would likely open in early 2012, and later, that it would open in August 2013.
   The DOC opened the 644-bed minimum-security portion of the prison in September 2007, and added 129 beds in 2010. The medium-security prison was completed in November 2007, and scheduled to open in February 2008, but nearly five years later, that seems to have been postponed indefinitely.
   Cameron Smith, the governor's senior policy advisor, said Friday that the Department of Corrections currently houses over 14,200 inmates -- which is up nearly 50 percent since 2000.
   "Over the next 10 years, if we just held the course, we would expect to grow by about 2,000 beds," he said, noting that prisons are the state's most expensive public safety tool.
   "If we stay the course, it would be about $600 million in operating and capital costs over 10 years -- above and beyond the existing costs," said Smith.
   With that in mind, the governor convened and expanded the Commission on Public Safety to redesign "a sustainable system that provides opportunities to reduce victimization and keep people safe in the long term, as it holds offenders accountable and protects public safety."
   "The governor's focus across all the different policy areas has been taking expensive back-end resources that are largely state programs and trying to invest those dollars in up-front prevention," Smith explained.
   In December, the bipartisan commission presented its Public Safety Report to the governor with five key objectives. The recommendations were:
   . Ensure prison beds are focused on serious violent offenders;
   . Incentivize good behavior and reduce the likelihood of recidivism;
   . Enhance evidence-based, cost-effective community supervision practices;
   . Establish performance objectives and measure outcomes; and
   . Promote sustainable use of corrections resource.
   According to Smith, the commission's report will be "the starting point for the conversation with the Legislature to see where we can get consensus on sentencing and public safety reforms."
   For the 2013-15 biennium, "The governor's budget assumes a cap of 14,600 prison beds," said Smith, pointing out that some of the $600 million saved over the next 10 years could be invested in community corrections, local law enforcement, drug courts and victims services.
   The cap also means that the Deer Ridge medium-security prison and the Oregon State Penitentiary minimum-security prison would both remain closed, and a planned prison at Junction City would be delayed.
   Officials at Deer Ridge are waiting for the Legislature to meet in February before they will know for certain what the fate of the medium-security facility will be for the next two years.
   In the meantime, they are assuming that the facility won't be opening anytime soon.
   "Basically, at this point, the governor's plan is our plan," said Meredith Allen, spokesperson for Deer Ridge. "We cannot deviate from that; we have to follow what the governor has in his plan."