Gov. Kate Brown is using her executive authority to close three Oregon prisons, a decision her office said would save the state more than $44 million.
The governor said she believes the money could be better invested elsewhere, such as early childhood education.
The move is not entirely surprising, since Brown called for closing the three prisons in her budget proposal released in December. But on Friday, in a meeting with reporters, the governor confirmed she took unilateral action and has directed the Department of Corrections to move forward with closing the three facilities without waiting for legislative adoption of a budget.
“I’ve already made the executive decision and I am directing the agency to proceed,” Brown told reporters.
The closure of three of the state’s 14 prisons will be staggered: First will be Mill Creek Correctional Facility in Salem, which is scheduled to be closed by July of this year, next Shutter Creek Correctional Institution in North Bend by January 2022, and last will be Warner Creek Correctional Facility in Lakeview, to be closed by July 2022.
All of the prisons are minimum-security facilities and inmates are within four years of release.
Lawmakers recently considered closing both Shutter Creek and Warner Creek, but decided not to move forward after pushback from rural community members.
The three prisons combined employ 237 people and house 749 inmates.
Brown’s office estimates the closures will save the state $42.7 million in general fund dollars, plus an additional $5.8 million in deferred maintenance costs.
“The Governor ultimately would like to reduce our state’s reliance on incarceration and invest more dollars in the program areas that work to prevent people from entering the criminal justice system, such as behavioral health, education, housing, and substance use disorder recovery and treatment,” Elizabeth Merah, the governor’s spokeswoman wrote in an email.
The state is developing a plan for relocating all the inmates, according to Department of Corrections spokeswoman Jen Black.
They are also working “hand-in-hand,” Black wrote in an email, to help the employees of the facilities find other employment at some of the state’s other institutions or worksites.
“We want our employees to feel confident – we are going to work very hard to assist them in this process,” Black wrote.