Gov. Kate Brown confirmed in a call with reporters Friday, Jan. 15, that she took unilateral action and has directed Oregon Department of Corrections to move forward with the process to close Warner Creek Correctional Facility (WCCF) by July of 2022 without waiting for legislative adoption of a budget, according to a report by Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB).

Oregon’s legislature was originally set to begin its 2021 legislative session Tuesday, Jan. 19, but decided to postpone its first in-person meeting as state lawmakers prepare for the possibility of another armed protest at the Capitol in Salem.

Brown’s move to close three of Oregon’s 14 prisons – she is also calling for the closure of Mill Creek Correctional Facility in Salem and Shutter Creek Correctional Institution in North Bend – was expected after she listed the closures in her December 2020 budget proposal. WCCF is slated to close last. Mill Creek is scheduled to close by July of this year and Shutter Creek by January 2022.

“Oregon no longer needs to maintain costly prison capacity and can now move forward with reductions in beds while maintaining appropriate supervision of adults in custody and keeping Oregonians safe,” the governor’s December budget document said.

Brown’s office estimates the closures will save the state $42.7 million in general fund dollars, plus an additional $5.8 million in deferred maintenance costs, OPB’s report states.

In an email, the Governor’s spokeswoman wrote that Brown would like to reduce Oregon’s reliance on incarceration and invest more dollars in program areas that work to prevent people from entering the criminal justice system, such as behavioral health, education, housing, and substance abuse treatment.

“My vision for the future of the prison system is that the state will no longer invest in extensive and expensive buildings, but instead invest in people,” Brown said late last year. She has said the state will work to re-employ corrections workers laid off due to the closures; some of those personnel are expected to be employed at other DOC facilities within the state.

Still, those who do receive a transfer will have to contend with the logistics of moving and the stress of uprooting their families. And the effect of those relocations is one of many indirect negative consequences that would come from WCCF’s closure – a message legislators, the Warner Creek Correctional Facility Retention Committee, Lake County public officials and others have tried to convey to Brown.

WCCF’s closure would mean the direct loss of approximately 108 jobs, a major blow to enrollment at local schools when children of WCCF employees move with their parents, and the loss of other area employees who are spouses of WCCF staff. Public officials and Warner Creek Retention committee members have tried to convey to legislators and the governor’s office that shutting down WCCF would trigger a devastating domino effect, causing great harm to Lake County’s already fragile economy.

Of course, inmates will also have to be relocated. Mill Creek, Shutter Creek and WCCF collectively house 749 inmates. Nearly half of those – 49.67% — are housed at WCCF. The state is developing a plan to relocate all of them, according to Department of Corrections spokeswoman Jennifer Black.

An inmate population profile released by Oregon Department of Corrections paints a more detailed picture of the men housed at WCCF – and all the other corrections facilities in the state – with data current as of Dec. 1, 2020.

It reports that WCCF houses an all-male population totaling 372 inmates, 77% percent of whom are white, 12% Hispanic, and about 8% Black. American Indians account for 2% of WCCF’s population and Asians less than 1%.

Men age 31-45 make up the largest percentage of the WCCF population – about 41%. Those in the 46-60 age bracket are next at 28%. Men in 25-30 age group account for 17% of the population and those 18-24 just 6%.

The overwhelming majority of adults in custody (AICs) at WCCF fall under the custody level 1, the lowest level. Of the 372 AICS, 333 are classified under level 1, 37 at level 2, and 2 at level three. While custody levels 4 and 5 also exist, WCCF does not have any AICs in those categories as it is a minimum-security prison. Most are due for release in 12-24 months, with the next highest percentage due for release in more than two years. The rest are expected to be out in less than a year, and about 61 individuals in less than six months.

A little more than a quarter of WCCF’s inmates are serving time for sex abuse charges. Assault ranks second, with 15% of AICs. About 10% of inmates are in custody due to crimes that fall into the “other offenses” category. Additional crimes for which men housed at WCCF are serving time include, in descending order: drugs, robbery, burglary, sodomy, rape, driving offenses, kidnapping, theft, vehicle theft and arson.

One of Warner Creek’s 372 inmates is serving a life sentence, according to the report, but none are considered “dangerous offenders.” Nineteen of the AICS at WCCF are serving time for drug-related offenses only.

The Examiner will continue to follow this story and print updates as needed.

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