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Budget Cuts: Governor Rejected Prison Closures Because He Didn’t Want To Free 1,000 Inmates June 29, 2010

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

Gov. Ted Kulongoski nixed a budget-cutting plan to close three state prisons because he wasn’t willing to use his power to commute the sentences of hundreds of convicted felons, a spokesman for the governor said Thursday.

“He’s simply not willing to release close to 1,000 inmates,” Rem Nivens said.

Instead, Kulongoski plans to ask the Legislative Emergency Board to tap into a reserve fund to cover the $15.3 million cost of keeping the three prisons open for the rest of the 2009-2011 budget cycle, which ends June 30, 2011, Nivens said.

The governor also will ask the board to allocate more than $3 million to forestall proposed cuts in a community corrections program providing supervision of low-level felons, he said.

The emergency board is made up of legislative leaders and budget writers who deal with budget problems when the Legislature isn’t in session. The state currently has about $50 million set aside in emergency and reserve funds.

Nivens described the planned $18 million “add back” to the Corrections Department budget as “a significant request.”

When Kulongoski will ask the board to approve the spending package hasn’t been determined. “We’re going to discuss with leadership when to make the official request,” Nivens said.

Two weeks ago, Kulongoski ordered across-the-board 9 percent state agency spending cuts to erase a projected $577 million shortfall in the state’s budget.

To meet its $52 million target, the Department of Corrections proposed closing three prisons: Mill Creek Correctional Facility and Santiam Correctional Institution, both in Salem, and the Powder River Correctional Facility in Baker City. Shut-down savings were estimated at $15.3 million.

Prison officials called for closing prisons because they had no other options to save large sums, said Jennifer Black, a Corrections Department spokeswoman.

“To get to that big of a reduction, we needed to close prisons,” Black said, referring to the $52 million amount. “The majority of our budget is in running prisons 24 hours a day. You just can’t get there without that kind of reduction.”




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