Warner Creek Correctional Facility could close

Warner Creek Correctional Facility, located just outside Lakeview, could close sometime between 2021 and 2023 if the closure is approved in an upcoming special legislative session.

Warner Creek Correctional Facility (WCCF) has been recommended for closure by the Ways and Means Committee, according to a letter to Department of Corrections staff from DOC Dir. Colette Peters and DOC Deputy Dir. Heidi Steward. The decision is not final, and requires a vote during a special legislative session.

Shutter Creek Correctional Institution in North Bend was also proposed for closure by the Ways and Means Committee. The closures are recommended to ease Oregon’s massive projected budget shortfall of more than $1 billion due to COVID-19’s impact on the economy. The plan proposed by the Ways and Means Committee suggests that WCCF would remain open for the remainder of the current biennium but would be slated for closure during the 2021-23 biennium; Shutter Creek would be closed during the current biennium.

Closure of WCCF would result in employee layoffs; the facility employs 110 people. WCCF Supt. Steve Brown noted that the majority of the facility’s staff are union-represented and based on their seniority could find other jobs within the Department of Corrections System if WCCF closes. But as WCCF is the only correctional facility in the area, those staff would have to relocate in order to find employment within the department.

This is not the first time WCCF has been placed on a list of potential Oregon correctional facility closures. Brown explained that at the beginning of each biennium, government agencies go through proposed budget cuts that are determined based on the state’s revenue forecast. WCCF is typically on the closure list, he said, but while correctional facilities are often on a potential closure list, those closures rarely come to fruition.

Brown informed the Lake County Board of Commissioners Wednesday, July 15, that WCCF was on the potential closure list; news of the Ways and Means Committee’s recommendation that the facility be closed was not reported until Thursday, July 16.

Brown told the Commissioners that WCCF is fully staffed and thus far has had no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in its staff or its adults in custody. If AICs present with flu-like symptoms, they will be quarantined and tested for coronavirus, he explained. WCCF would have to visit their private provider for testing, as Warner Creek is not testing staff for COVID-19 at this time. Staff are screened when they come to work each day through questions and by having their temperature taken.

Visiting at WCCF has been closed since March and no volunteers can enter the facility.

WCCF opened in 2005 and is capable of housing 496 inmates.

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