Chips or Children: Preserving Families at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility

Elleanor Chin FacebookTwitter

The Oregon Department of Corrections (ODC) is shutting down the Family Preservation Project at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility (CCCF) in Wilsonville Oregon. The program provides not just visitation for children with their incarcerated mothers, but parenting skill training and support groups. It is an intensive program serving a relatively small population of inmates, but with a high success rate. Few, if any participants in the program, are re-admitted to prison.

The program costs approximately $300,000 a year and in 2014 it served 11 women, 17 children and 22 caregivers (typically family caring for the children while their mothers are incarcerated). That’s about $27,000 per family served, per year. The prison officials say that it’s not fiscally responsible to continue a program that serves so few people and they should use the money for something that benefits a larger percentage of the inmate population.

I took a quick look at the ODC budget and publicly available statistics about Oregon incarceration costs and the suggestion that $300,000 will make a meaningful difference anywhere else in the prison system is questionable. On the other hand the Family Preservation program is a high value, high success program for the people who participate. It provides skills and nurturing opportunities that the inmates did not have earlier in their lives and reduces recidivism. Incarceration is an expensive proposition and as a society we have chosen not to invest in education or other programs that prevent incarceration, so we pay the price.

There are 14,588 prison inmates in Oregon, of whom just over 8 percent (1,265) are women. CCCF houses roughly 650 inmates. The ODC annual budget is roughly $1.4 billion (including programs for probationary, incarcerated and paroled populations). The ODC’s own estimate of daily costs per inmate for incarceration is $87.08 (about $463 million annually for the incarcerated population or $37,700 per year per inmate).

Given these numbers what else could the ODC do with the $300,000 annually that it is presently using to teach incarcerated women how to be better mothers, and give children a chance to see, hug and be read to by their mothers?

*It could house the entire CCF population for a little less than 6 days. (Put another way, it could release close to 700 inmates less than a week early and save the same amount of money).

*It could house a single inmate for about 9.4 years (the median incarceration period is about 5 and half years).

*It could (almost) pay a single ODC invoice to the Frito-Lay company in Illinois for the year 2014.

I also checked the public data for Oregon government agency expenditure. There are plenty of things that the ODC spends $300,000 or more on (besides snack foods). There are a lot of things (advertising, consultants, vehicles, legal fees, postage) on which other Oregon State government agencies spend 300K bucks a pop. There could be any number of explanations for the Lottery Board’s advertising or the Health Authority’s professional services expenditures, and they might be covered by other revenue sources. But the idea that the State of Oregon or even the ODC couldn’t find another place to cut $300,000 is questionable. (and it appears that the State could save a good deal of money on legal fees and crisis management by a change in leadership)

Put another way, the State is already spending close to $40,000 per year on each of the women in the program. This program reduces recidivism. On the other hand, if any two inmates are incarcerated for the median period of five years, it will cost more than the annual cost of the program.

As a percentage of the annual incarceration costs (of all inmates) as a whole, about $6 per year of that is the CCCF Family Preservation program. $6 per person per year won’t do much for the whole prison population. It won’t do much for the entire population of incarcerated women, or even the other 600 or more prisoners at CCCF. It is doing a lot for the children and families who participate in the program. I urge the legislature and the Department of Corrections to reconsider their priorities.

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