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Costs spiral for prison measures

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Monday, September 01, 2008

STATEWIDE A state analysis of the two criminal justice measures competing for votes this November estimates prison costs to be even higher than anticipated. The forecast predicts that the cheaper of the two alternatives, Measure 57, would cost $1.1 billion over the next decade, while the more costly version, Measure 61, would cost up to $2.2 billion.

The main difference between the price tags is the cost of building prisons. Measure 57 would require about $500 million for borrowing money to build prisons and paying that money back over 25 years, with interest. Measure 61 would put up to four times as much money, or $2 billion over, into building new prisons, according to the state analysis.

Because neither identifies a funding source, the measures would be funded through Oregon’s general fund. That is likely to be the point of contention as the election approaches, because Oregon already spends a larger percentage of its general fund on corrections than any other state, according to a February 2008 report by Pew’s Center on the States.

Oregon expanded its prison system substantially in the 1990s, building new prisons in remote locations from Ontario to Lakeview to Madras. The prisons were often touted as drivers of rural economic development, but several studies have disproved that claim (see “Prisontown Myth” in the April 2008 issue of Oregon Business).

The state’s 13,600 inmates are housed in 14 facilities. The Oregon Department of Corrections has plans for prisons in White City and Junction City, but will have to adjust for thousands of new inmates if either measure passes. If both pass, the one with the most votes will become law.


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