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Home arrow Opinion arrow Editorials arrow Kudos, Kulongoski

Kudos, Kulongoski

We haven’t had occasion to write this often, but we’re pleased today to do so:

Thank goodness for Ted Kulongoski.

Last week Oregon’s governor dismissed a proposal to close three state prisons — including the Powder River Correctional Facility in Baker City — with all the haste the idea richly deserved.

Just a handful of hours, in fact, elapsed between the governor’s office announcing a list of proposed cost-cutting measures, and Kulongoski’s spokeswoman Anna Richter Taylor saying this:

“The governor will not allow three prisons to close and release 1,000 prisoners.”

With that said, and we hope settled, we remain perplexed about why the Department of Corrections suggested such drastic measures.

Yes, we understand that Oregon officials need to plug a $577 million breach in the budget for the current two-year cycle.

And we’re aware that Kulongoski ordered all state agencies to send him strategies for trimming 9 percent from their budgets.

But the Corrections Department’s proposal prompted us to get our calculator. And the little device showed some numbers that seemed to us curious.

The Department of Corrections’ suggested solution is to close three of the state’s 14 prisons.

Which is 21 percent of them, or considerably more than 9 percent.

The two others — Mill Creek Correctional Facility and Santiam Correctional Institution — are in Salem.

All three house minimum-security inmates. But not very many inmates, as compared to the state’s total prison population.

Combined, Powder River, Mill Creek and Santiam house about 1,000 inmates — 7.1 percent of the total.

Yet rather than spread the cuts — and the loss of family-wage state jobs — relatively evenly, the agency is not proposing to release any inmates or eliminate any jobs at prisons that house far more minimum-security inmates than does Powder River or Mill Creek or Santiam.

The minimum-security Columbia River Correctional Institution in Portland, for instance, houses 565 inmates. Warner Creek Correctional Facility in Lakeview has 397 inmates.

Proposing to close Powder River is even more puzzling because the Baker City prison is unique among state facilities in focusing on treating inmates’ drug and alcohol addictions.

The value of this treatment, both in human and financial terms, is considerable, since experts cite drug and alcohol abuse as a contributing factor in many crimes.

And according to Department records, 8,000 of the state’s 14,000 inmates have either a “severe addiction” or “severe problem” with drug or alcohol abuse. Even the Department concedes that closing Powder River “would have an an adverse impact on recidivism.”

We’re troubled, too, that the Corrections Department couldn’t find a single job to cut in its administrative functions.

Although officials did propose to keep four vacant jobs unfilled at least until June 30, 2011.

Quite a sacrifice. But this one we hope the governor agrees to.

 
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