The Sunday Oregonian, April 28, 1996

3,000-bed prison goes up near Ontario

  • Precast concrete cells fabricated in Boise are assembled like Legos on a former bean field site above the Snake River

    By Richard Cockle
    Correspondent, The Oregonian

    ONTARIO - Oregon's first 3,000-bed mega-prison is rising slowly on a former bean field above the Snake River near Ontario.

    Precast concrete cells are being stacked to form prison cellblocks at the Snake River Correctional Institution.

    The Oregon Corrections Department describes it as one of the largest public works projects attempted in Oregon.

    "It's like a giant Legos set," prison spokeswoman Gretchen Ludwig said.

    Outfitted with bunks, desks and benches, the cells are cast at Monroc Inc. in Boise and trucked to the 103-acre prison compound.

    Ready by spring 1998

    By spring 1998, plans call for Snake River's inmate population to increase to about 3,000. Beds for 120 new inmates are to be ready in December.

    In all, 2,300 new beds will be in use by spring 1998, at a cost of $179 million.

    The existing prison opened Aug. 2, 1991, and holds 648 prisoners.

    Ludwig said inmates would be transferred to Snake River as each building is completed to relieve overcrowding at the other institutions.

    The additional beds are needed to handle an expected heavy influx of inmates generated by passage of Ballot Measure 11.

    Approved by Oregon voters in November 1994, Measure 11 is expected to double the state's inmate population within about four years, in part because of mandatory minimum sentences and prohibitions on early release of some inmates.

    A mega-prison

    The new mega-prison, 371 miles east of Portland, will be three separate medium-security lockups within one large, fenced compound, Ludwig said.

    About 40 prisoners are helping with the construction, a number that could grow to about 100, Ludwig said.

    "That saves the state and the taxpayers a lot of money, and the work is very good that they do," she said.


    Portland NORML notes: If, as the article states, "2,300 new beds will be in use by spring 1998, at a cost of $179 million," that would mean the average cost per cell would be $77,826.08. The article does not say so, but the state of Oregon has not yet budgeted the operating expenses for any new prisons for 1998 or beyond.

    For the current U.S. Justice Department report on prison populations nationwide, "The Nation's Correctional Population Tops 5 Million," which notes that "Since 1980 the number has almost tripled, growing at an average annual rate of 7.6 percent," click here.


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