KGW Northwest NewsChannel 8, 11 pm Friday, March 29, 1996

Out of Room

Announcer Carol Jensen: Oregon's prisons are bulging at the seams and the worst is yet to come.

Announcer Jim Benemann: The people who run state prisons are forecasting very serious problems. They say thousands more criminals will soon be sent to state prison but there won't be any place to put them. The NewsChannel's Tom Fuller reports on a dire situation.

Tom Fuller: This is the Oregon State Correctional Institution outside Salem. This place was built to accommodate 476 inmates. Today it houses just over 1,000. This used to be a day room here. A place for inmates to relax and stretch out. Not anymore. It's so bad now that a couple of months ago, the prison turned this day room into a bunk room.

Michael Green: Not enough space.

Fuller: Inmate Michael Green experiences the crunch every day.

Green: Yeah, in the chow hall you gotta stand up against the, line yourself up against the wall to wait to sit down to eat your chow, or go out there to the weight pile you got people arguing over weights cause there's just not enough.

Fuller: Unfortunately for Michael and the others here, this is just the beginning. The people that run Oregon's prisons are out now with new forecasts, and they're scary. By the year 2005, Oregon's prison population will go from its present 8,000 [graphic says 8,182 in 1996] to over 19,000. [graphic says 19,500 in 2005]

Stephen Willhite, prison analyst: We're looking at something on the order of a doubling of the prison population in 10 years.

Fuller: Here at OSCI they are full up. There are no more day rooms like this for them to reclaim. And it's like this in virtually every institution in the state of Oregon. With prison populations zooming, the Department of Corrections has few options. Four new prisons are on the drawing boards, a new 500- to 600-bed women's prison, a new intake center, a new 1,500 medium- and a 400-bed minimum security prison. There is no money to pay for the new beds. That will be up to the 1997 Oregon Legislature. In the meantime, prisoners will continue to be shipped off to rental beds in states like Texas and inmates will keep bunking in tighter and tighter quarters. In Salem I'm Tom Fuller, KGW Northwest NewsChannel 8.

Benemann: This all means prison officials will have to plan for even more prisons and paying for them will likely take an even bigger chunk of Oregon's dwindling sources of revenue.



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