State fund pays for services designed to keep offenders out of prison.

COURTESY OF OREGON DOC - Oregon's Department of Corrections plans to open a vacant medium-security facility at Deer Creek Correctional Institution in Madras using funds set aside to keep some county offenders out of prison.Oregon lawmakers say they may have to take more than $9 million from a state fund designed to keep offenders out of prison to pay for expanding prison space.

A 2013 law intended to flatline growth in the state prison population has been less successful than anticipated. The state is projected to have 150 more prisoners in March than previously forecast, according to the state Office of Economic Analysis.

The Department of Corrections plans to accommodate the extra prisoners by opening a vacant medium-security facility at Deer Creek Correctional Institution in Madras, said Colette Peters, department director. Executing the plan by March would cost about $9.5 million, she said. The department plans had called for opening that facility in 2019.

House Majority Leader Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, said the only option for covering that cost is to siphon the money from the Justice Reinvestment Fund.

The Justice Reinvestment Fund was created in House Bill 3194 in 2013 to give resources to counties to set up support services for offenders on probation and parole. The bill also restructured the state’s sentencing guidelines to try to ebb the flow of offenders into the prison system.

“What we hear from judges and prosecutors is there are folks they send to prison because there are no supervision resources locally,” said Mike Schmidt, executive director of the Criminal Justice Commission. “This justice reinvestment is building the infrastructure so we can keep offenders out of prison and actually give them a shot.”

The Criminal Justice Commission divvied up $15 million from the fund in 2013-14. About $40 million was earmarked for the fund for 2015-16. The $9.5 million expansion at Deer Ridge would come out of the $40 million amount.

It’s unclear whether each county’s grant would shrink proportionally or whether the balance of grant money would be awarded according to merit.

“My concern is that would end just reinvestment in Oregon,” said Heidi Moawad, Gov. Kate Brown’s public safety policy adviser. “It was a hard-won battle … to get our $40 million fund this biennium.”

COURTESY OF OREGON DOC - County and state officials will meet with Gov. Kate Brown to talk about a plan to reopen a vacant section of Deer Ridge Correctional Institution using funds for county offender programs.

Meet with governor

Since funding started last year, some jurisdictions such as Multnomah County have already reduced the number of prison intakes. The counties need more time to see how the programs affect recidivism, said Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Caroline Wong.

Multnomah County’s grant funds pay for offender housing, drug treatment, employment development, mentorship, parenting classes, probation officers and other services for offenders in the community.

Dale Primmer, Umatilla County community corrections director, said he is concerned the program may be gutted before it has had a chance to show results.

Umatilla County applied for a $914,251 justice reinvestment grant for this year. The county plans to use some of that money to establish a program to connect offenders with treatment centers before they are released from jail. The shorter the time between jail and treatment the more likely it is that offenders will complete diversion programs and avoid recidivism, Primmer said.

The fear is that the counties will start new programs this year and then lose funding in 2016 because the state needs to expand Deer Ridge, Primmer said. That kind of uncertainty makes it difficult for counties to plan because they craft their budgets far in advance, he said.

Gov. Brown strongly supports continuing the fund, Moawad said. The governor plans to meet with county officials from 9 a.m. to noon Nov. 10 to discuss ways to immediately reduce the prison population and stave off the need for the expansion. The meeting is scheduled at the Department of Public Safety Standards in Training Hall of Fame, 4190 Aumsville Highway in Salem.

Avoiding expansion?

The Deer Ridge expansion plan entails moving the existing 787 minimum-security prisoners from the minimum-security building to the vacant medium-security facility. The medium-security building has 200 additional beds to accommodate the statewide spike in prisoners projected for March, Peters said.

Moving the prisoners and repairing and furnishing the medium-security facility would cost about $2.5 million. Hiring people to serve the additional prisoners would cost about $7 million, Peters said.

The Department of Corrections director said the new sentencing guidelines and Justice Reinvestment Fund have been working to slow growth in the prison population, just not as much as anticipated. She is still hopeful that counties may be able to work together to stave off the projected growth of 150 prisoners in time to avoid expanding Deer Ridge.

By Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau Reporter
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