Oregon's Prison Spending

Over at the unofficial blog of the Lane County Bus Project, blogger Marshall Wilde discusses the recent news that Oregon spends more of its budget on prisons than any other state:

Apparently, Oregon spends the largest percentage of its budget on prisons of any state. LINK

Before we get into the inevitable attacks on Measure 11, we might want to look at a few factors. First, Oregon has a low overall budget for a state of its size because, well, Oregonians are cheap when it comes to funding state government. Second, Oregon doesn’t have some of the economies of scale of larger states, so having any prison system at all is going to eat up a bunch of money. Third, Oregon’s per capita incarceration rate is actually below the national average. Fourth, the prison budget also includes spending on county jail incarceration, something not paid out of prison budgets in other states. Also, it includes some community corrections payments, another item not generally included in prison budgets in other states.

You would expect Kevin Mannix to defend incarceration, but perhaps not in this way. He said that the reason we pay so much is because we have well-compensated corrections officers. He admitted that this is a good thing, saying, “You get what you pay for,” and stating that the high compensation was one of the reasons we don’t have as many problems with drugs in our prisons as other states.

Two ballot measures set for the November election will have a huge impact on the future of Oregon's prisons:

There are some changes on the horizon. Mannix’s mandatory minimums measure would mandate a huge increase in prison spending. If it passes, it seems like we would have to take a look at what “prison” means, moving away from politically popular, but ineffective, large, secure, and expensive prisons in Eastern Oregon for a cheaper, more effective, community-based minimum security model.

If, instead, SB 1087 passes, that would actually fund treatment programs. The hope is that this would boost Oregon’s abysmal spending on rehab programs and offset the increased incarceration that it mandates for repeat offenders.

So, if the bad news is that we spend a lot on prisons, perhaps it’s not that we have too many people in prison, but rather that we spend a lot on prisons. It’s heartening to see that there’s some consensus that we shouldn’t be cutting corrections officer salaries to make it cheaper, although maybe we should be looking at the system to figure out how to make it less expensive and more effective. However, you needn’t look farther that the current debate over community supervision for the mentally ill to see how popular these sorts of community placements are. Everyone agrees that they’re a good idea, but no one wants one in their town.

Read the rest and comment at LaneBus.org.


connect with blueoregon