KATU Channel 2 News, Portland, Oregon, Tuesday, June 11, 1996, 5:04 pm.

Prison Troubles

Announcer Julie Emry: A problem faced by almost every state: more criminals mean a need for more prison beds. That is forcing Oregonians to choose between two big priorities, jails or schools. Every state dollar spent on one means there is a dollar less for the other. Right now, schools are an emotional hot button, but legally, the state must put its priorities in paying for more prison beds. That's because Oregon voters decided they wanted criminals to serve longer sentences. So take a look at this: right now, there are 7,200 inmates in Oregon prisons. By the year 2005, the state predicts that number will more than double, to 19,000.

Announcer Jeff Gianola: Well, when voters passed Ballot Measure 11 back in 1994, they wanted to get tough on criminals. But as Mark Hass reports, getting tough has its price.

Reporter Mark Hass: Two years ago, Oregon voters passed a ballot measure to crack down on criminals. Now, the state is doing just that. Prison sentences are longer; there is no time off for good behavior, no early parole. But now, Oregon has run out of room to keep those criminals that voters threw the book at. In fact, Oregon has to rent beds outside the state for more than 1,000 inmates, and just to keep up, Oregon's prisons chief is preparing to nearly triple state prison space.

Dave Cook, Oregon Corrections Department: This is not something that would be nice to do, this is a necessity. And we have, essentially, 1,000 inmates currently out of state in rental beds. Those people cannot stay there for the long term.

Reporter Mark Hass: Channel Two News has obtained the list of new prisons the state wants built in the next 10 years. First, expand the Snake River prison in Eastern Oregon - that's already underway; build a major new women's prison; and build five - that's right, five - new men's prisons. The plan also calls for two new minimum security facilities and the expansion of existing prisons. All of the new construction for those new prisons, and all of the people that will have to be hired to run them, is expensive; about a billion dollars is the estimate over the next 10 years. A billion dollars that will go to prisons, a billion dollars that will not go to schools. No one knows that better than Oregon's governor, who says voters may just now understand what they did.

Gov. John Kitzhaber: If people had been asked, do you want to lay off a lot of teachers so you can build these prisons, I'm not sure it would have passed by that margin.

Reporter Mark Hass: No one knows yet where these new prisons will go, but for now, in spite of the crisis calls from the classrooms, in Oregon, it's prisons first, schools second. In Salem, Mark Hass, Channel Two News.

Announcer Jeff Gianola: Here's another note. Prison population is increasing so fast the Oregon Corrections Department is asking the Legislative Emergency Board just this month for $20 million dollars to speed up prison construction.



Back to the All Politics Is Local page.

This URL: http://www.pdxnorml.org/KATU_Prison_Troubles_061196.html