DIRECT PRISON FUNDS TOWARD HELPING YOUTH
Prior to the vote on Ballot Measure 28, the state income tax hike that Oregonians rejected in January, communities across Oregon were told of the devastation that every state agency would suffer if the measure failed.
In many cases the warnings were absolutely correct. State troopers lost their jobs, seniors lost their drugs and public schools had to cut jobs and school days. We were told prisons would close down and prisoners would be roaming the streets. The list of the devastating impacts went on.
At one point the Department of Corrections said that both the prisons in Pendleton (Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, 1451 prisoners) and in Baker City (Power River Correctional Facility, 176 prisoners) were on the chopping block.
The number of good-paying jobs at stake would have been a staggering blow to both cities' economies. Now, just about three months after Measure 28 was defeated, neither prison has shut down. In fact, none of Oregon's 13 state adult prison facilities have closed. The same cannot be said for the Oregon Youth Authority, which closed facilities in Burns, Prineville and Tillamook. The result was the loss of a couple hundred good paying jobs in each of these rural communities. A spinoff was the laying off of some employees at the OYA's Riverbend camp near Hilgard.
Now it appears that the DOC has not only recovered from the effects of Measure 28 but has found extra money, enough in fact to increase the size of the facility in Baker City by 100 beds and add 56 jobs. At the same time, the corrections department is restarting the construction of yet another rural prison in Lakeview. We ask why.
Oregon taxpayers currently shell out just under $450 million annually to house the state's 12,000-plus prisoners and another $47 million for capital construction projects. The cost to operate the prison in Baker City averages a staggering $38,662 per prisoner.
In many circles prison construction and job creation has been hailed as economic development for rural Oregon. We call it pork.
Lost in so much of this was the closure of the three OYA facilities, where young offenders up to the age of 21 were held and rehabilitated. While youthful offenders have a much greater chance of not reoffending, the adult prison population continues to have a higher recidivism rate.
The Department of Corrections has failed to work toward helping youth offenders and instead is caught up in a frenzy of building more and more prisons and spending too much on the prisoners the state currently holds. The Oregon Legislature should trim the DOC's new budget, reduce spending on adult prisoners and reopen the Youth Authority facilities that were closed. We need to work harder at helping troubled youth offenders. The teenage years is the time of life when steps can be taken to help offenders choose a better path.