Budget cuts could force closure of seven prisons, AFSCME warns

The union that represents most Department of Corrections (DOC) employees in Oregon has announced its strong opposition to the department's plans to close seven state prisons, lay off about 1,000 employees and release almost 4,000 inmates in an effort to meet its share of the nearly half-billion-dollar state budget shortfall.

"This is bad public policy, and the governor and the Legislature cannot allow this to happen," said Ken Allen, executive director of Oregon Council 75 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). "These are not 'minor criminals' we're talking about releasing. You have to commit some pretty serious offenses to land in the state prison system, and these are not people that the citizens of Oregon want out walking around free."

AFSCME represents most of the corrections officers and other prison staff in the Oregon state prison system. The DOC released a list of the seven prisons it has targeted for closure.

* Columbia River Correctional Institution, Portland (470 beds, 126 employees);

* Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, Pendleton (1,584 beds, 379 employees);

* Oregon State Correctional Institution, Salem (880 beds, 237 employees);

* Oregon State Penitentiary Minimum Institution (the old Oregon Women's Correctional Center), Salem (176 beds, 49 employees);

* Santiam Correctional Institution, Salem (390 beds, 112 employees);

* Shutter Creek Correctional Institution, North Bend (250 beds, 77 employees);

* South Fork Forest Camp, Tillamook (200 beds, 16 employees).

Allen says he and the AFSCME political staff are working hard in Salem with both Democrats and Republicans to forge a budget plan that spares prison closures.

"We're working our tails off to avoid these cutbacks," he said.

There are other issues involved with prison closures as well. Closing the targeted institutions would cause an extreme economic hardship on their communities - particularly the case of Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton and Shutter Creek Correctional Institution in North Bend.

Allen said AFSCME also has major concerns about granting release authority to one individual, most likely the acting superintendent of corrections. The Legislature would have to pass a special law granting that authority before such a volume of inmates could be released. Allen says the public should be concerned about any process that bypasses the parole board system.

September 20, 2002 issue

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