Dispute between victims group and Pew Center

| Print |  Email
Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Pew Center’s numbers on prison spending in Oregon [The Prisontown Myth, April] are misleading at best and more to the point, intellectually disingenuous. Since you accepted Pew’s numbers, your readers received a skewed perspective on actual prison spending in Oregon.

You regurgitate Pew’s claim that Oregon spends a larger percentage of its general fund on corrections than any other state. Pew puts this at 10.9%. Figures from the Oregon Legislative Fiscal Office’s budget analysis show that it is 9%. And this includes $225 million for community corrections: parole, probation, treatment and other non-prison items. Spending on prisons is less than 7.5% of Oregon’s general fund budget.

You also regurgitate Pew’s claim that Oregon spends more on prisons than higher education. However, figures from the Legislative Fiscal Office show that Oregon’s general fund budget for prisons is about $1 billion while the general fund budget for higher education, including community colleges, OHSU and student assistance, is $1.57 billion. Accounting for federal tax dollars leaves prisons at $1 billion and raises higher education to $2 billion.

Completely missing from your article was any hint of what prisons have done for Oregon public safety. From 1960 to 1985, Oregon’s violent crime rate increased by nearly 700% during which time we built one new prison with a capacity of 400 beds. The governor and the director of the Department of Corrections at the time both acknowledged that lack of prison beds left Oregon’s criminal justice system in crisis. Violent crime remained roughly flat near peak levels for the next 10 years. From 1995 to 2006, while Oregon’s prison population doubled, our violent crime rate decreased by 46%, the second-largest decrease of any state during that period. The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission estimated that increased incarceration from 1995 to 2005 resulted in 98,786 crimes being avoided in 2005 alone.

I don’t disagree with your basic premise that prisons don’t result in economic growth — that’s not their purpose. The purpose is public safety, something policymakers ignored for decades. As a business entity, you understand that with this record of neglect, at some point you have to pay off the credit card.

Steve Doell
Crime Victims United of Oregon


The Pew Center responds:

Steve Doell questions a statistic cited in our recent study (“One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008”) that Oregon spent 10.9% of its general fund dollars on corrections in FY07, the highest proportion in the country.

That figure was reported by the state’s Department of Administrative Services to the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO). NASBO data is widely considered to be authoritative and is used commonly to compare state spending priorities and trends in a number of policy arenas.

Mr. Doell cites figures from a different source, but even if you use his numbers (9% for all corrections agencies and 7.5% for prisons only), the corrections share of Oregon’s general fund still would rank among the highest in the country, either third or tied with Louisiana for 11th, respectively.

He also questions our report’s comparison of Oregon’s corrections to higher education spending. These numbers also come from the official NASBO reports, and were recently confirmed by Oregon’s Budget and Management Division. Mr. Doell’s re-analysis includes only prisons, ignoring other state-funded corrections agencies.

More importantly, Oregon is currently spending more on corrections than it is on higher education. Twenty years ago, the state only spent 34 cents on corrections for every dollar spent on higher education, and today it spends $1.06 on corrections for every higher education dollar.

There is no doubt that putting more people in prison over the past 25 years helped cut the crime rate. But with 1 in 100 adults now behind bars and states facing billion-dollar deficits, the more relevant question is: are there more cost-effective ways to enhance public safety?

Oregon’s community corrections agencies know the answer. They’ve earned a well-deserved reputation for high-quality supervision, sanctions and services that not only cut recidivism but also require offenders to hold down a job so they can pay taxes, child support and restitution to their victims.

Adam Gelb
Director, Public Safety Performance Project


Have an opinion? E-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

The Pew Center on the States

 

More Articles

Fighting Fire With Fire

May 2015
Friday, April 24, 2015
BY BEN DEJARNETTE | INVESTIGATEWEST

Timber companies and environmental groups take a stab at collaboration to boost logging and restoration in Oregon fires.


Read more...

Oregon businesses face destruction from future earthquake

The Latest
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
htctthumb1BY KIM MOORE | RESEARCH EDITOR

An earthquake would completely destroy many Oregon businesses, highlighting the urgent need for the private and public sectors to collaborate on shoring up disaster preparedness, said panelists at an Oregon Business breakfast summit today.


Read more...

Picture This

May 2015
Monday, April 27, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

As a general rule, the more people with autism can be provided with visual cues, the better they will be able to understand and manage their environment. It’s a lesson Tom Keating learned well. The 61-year-old Eugene grant writer spent 31 years taking care of his autistic brother James, and in the late 1980s developed a spreadsheet that created a series of nonsense characters that grew or shrank depending on how much money James had in his account. 


Read more...

Power Players

April 2015
Friday, March 27, 2015
BY ROBERT MULLIN

A new energy-sharing agreement sparks concerns about independence and collaboration in the region's utility industry.


Read more...

Car Talk

April 2015
Thursday, March 26, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER

Everyone knows cell phones and driving are a lethal combination. The risk is especially high for teenage drivers, whose delusions of immortality pose such a threat to us all. Enforcement alas, remains feeble; more promising are pedagogical approaches aimed at getting people to focus on the road, not their devices.


Read more...

Knight Cancer Challenge No Biotech Dream

May 2015
Monday, April 27, 2015
BY JOE CORTRIGHT

The Knight challenge is an important instance of philanthropy. But we should not assume it will magically transform OHSU into a business- and job-spinning engine for the local economy.


Read more...

Man for All Seasons

May 2015
Monday, April 27, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER

A longtime technologist and entrepreneur, Dwayne Johnson, 53, is managing partner of PDXO/GlobeThree Ventures, a strategy and business consultancy in Portland.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS