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Prison expansions bring small gains June 15, 2008

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

The Oregon State Penitentiary was built in Portland in 1851 and relocated to Salem in 1866, where it remained the state’s only major prison for 100 years. Other facilities were built to supplement the penitentiary’s mission, but with the exception of a forest work camp in Tillamook, Oregon’s prisons were confined to Salem until 1985, when the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution opened in Pendleton.

Then came the great expansion: the Powder River Correctional Facility was completed 350 miles east of Salem in Baker City in 1989, followed by a barrage of prisons named after bodies of water rather than towns: Mill Creek, Columbia River, Shutter Creek, Snake River, Two Rivers, Coffee Creek and Warner Creek. With the opening of the Deer Ridge Correctional Institution in Madras last October, Oregon’s prison industry has grown to 14 facilities, 13,500 inmates, nearly 5,000 jobs and a DOC budget of $1.26 billion. The state now spends more on prisons than on higher education.

As the new prisons were built, wages in rural Oregon stagnated. So it’s not surprising that rural communities have embraced prisons and the jobs they bring. “There’s not a lot of industry knocking at your door in these rural areas,” says Oregon Employment Department regional economist Dallas Fridley, who tracks North Central Oregon. “Given the isolated nature of some of these communities, there may not be that many options for development beyond a prison.”

Employment and income numbers indicate that Oregon’s massive investment in prison expansion has brought local gains that are modest at best. The rural counties that gambled biggest on large prisons after the passage of Measure 11, Malheur and Umatilla, have continued to struggle. In Malheur County, non-farming jobs have increased slightly since the completion of the Snake River prison, but wages have been sluggish. Malheur County has the state’s highest poverty rate, its lowest median income, and is 31st out of 36 Oregon counties in earnings per job.




1. Johnny - July 29, 2008

Wow, that was really good work!