Facing a budget shortfall emergency, Oregon is considering closing three state prisons and freeing nearly 1,000 inmates, reports the Oregonian. The likelihood of such dramatic measures remains unclear, but one way or another the state must rebalance the budget, which has a huge deficit. The proposed cuts come in response to Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s order that state agencies slice 9 percent from the final 12 months of their 2009-11 budgets.
Lawmakers who have been through similar budget reductions say multiple prison closures and wholesale inmate releases are doubtful. One possibility is to use some of the $50 million in emergency and reserve funds to keep the prisons operating. “Three prisons — I don’t think we can do that,” said Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, co-chairman of the committee responsible for drawing up the state budget. Any savings would be quickly eaten up by the cost of releasing so many convicted felons, he said. Max Williams, Corrections Department director, said he had no choice but to propose closing three minimum-security prisons to meet his $52 million target. He rejected shutting down programs that teach job skills, educate prisoners, and treat addiction problems, saying that would save less than half the money and provoke problems within the prisons.