By Phil Manzano
of The Oregonian staff
SALEM - The Oregon Department of Corrections plans to build 10 prisons at eight new sites and expand four existing prisons by 2005 to deal with the state's rapid increase in prisoners.
Department officials will present their plan to the Legislative Emergency Board on Thursday and Friday, at which time they will seek approval and about $14 million to begin locating land for the new prisons.
The prisons are the brick and mortar of the public's get-tough-on-crime attitude. In 1994, voters passed Measure 11, which instituted mandatory minimum prison sentences for violent crimes and created a need for more prison beds.
The department's construction plan is based on prison population forecasts that call for Oregon's prison population to grow from about 8,500 inmates now to 19,246 in the next nine years.
"What drives the need is the prison population is going to increase dramatically," Corrections Director Dave Cook said. "Most people will tell you it is Ballot Measure 11 that is having the most dramatic effect."
By 2005, roughly 9,000 of the inmates, or nearly half the inmates in the state's prison system, will be serving time mandated by Measure 11.
In addition, Oregon legislators in a February special session approved tougher sentences for criminals who repeatedly commit property crimes such as car theft or burglary. That legislation is expected to add 700 inmates to the prison system by 2005.
If the prison plan is approved, the corrections staff will begin looking for eight new prison sites. They hope to have identified those sites by the end of the year and begin construction on two new prisons early next year.
The department seeks about $14 million from the Emergency Board to fund the site acquisition and initial design stages of the
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Prisons:Building costs increase
first two prison sites. But budget officials said they cannot yet estimate the costs for all 10 new prisons.
The plan is the most ambitious since the late 1980s, when $85 million was spent to expand the state prison system by 1,721 beds for a total of 6,000 beds.
As part of that plan, it cost $13.7 million to construct the 400-bed Columbia River Correctional Institution. By contrast, the 2,500-bed expansion of the Snake River Correctional Institution will cost nearly $180 million.
The prisoner boom has the corrections staff on an aggressive pace.
"It's pretty brisk," said Cook, whose department also must find work for all of its prisoners as required by Measure 17 passed by voters in 1994. "A lot of times you feel like you're going to run out of gas."
According to a memo detailing the new prison request, the department's top priority will be building women's prisons.
"We've been out of space for women for some time," Cook said.
Women inmates are now housed at the Oregon Women's Correctional Center in Salem and the co-ed Columbia River Correctional Institution in Portland.
The new prison plan calls for:
Each 1,536-bed medium-security prison will also have a 100-bed minimum-security support facility.
The prisons would be grouped on eight sites sharing kitchen and hospital facilities. For instance, the women's prisons and intake facility will be built on the first site located.
A current increase in prison population also is driving the Department of Corrections to open a wing of the Snake River Correctional Institution ahead of schedule.
The department is expanding the Ontario prison near the Oregon-Idaho border from its current 660 beds to nearly 3,000 beds by June 1998.
Cook wants to have 530 new beds at the prison ready by next April and needs $13 million for start-up and operations costs. Opening the beds will require the department to hire another 346 workers. About another 75 positions are required to handle the extra prisoners.
In the meantime, the department is using temporary beds at its 12 prisons around the state. Those beds are set up in day rooms that have been converted to dormitories or segregation cells that now have double bunks.
In addition, the state has rented prison beds from counties and other states. The department has nearly 1,000 male inmates housed out of state and expects to have 1,779 in out-of-state prisons by year's end.
In November, the state will have to rent 78 beds out of state for women prisoners.
The department has found ways to save about $20 million by cutting costs and through federal grants, but it is requesting about $25 million from the Emergency Board to deal with the prison population increases through July 1997.
About $20 million would come from a special Emergency Board fund set up by the 1995 Legislature for operations and start-up costs of correctional facilities. The remaining $5 million would come from the main Emergency Fund.
Phil Manzano covers crime and prisons for The Oregonian's Crime, Justice and Public Safety Team. He can be reached by phone at  221-8212, by fax at 294-5009 and by e-mail, PhilManzano@news.oregonian.com
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