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Prisons Take Bigger Bite Out of Smaller Oregon Budget

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 By Chris ThomasContact
February 29, 2008

Salem, OR - Oregon spends a higher percentage of its budget on prisons than any other state, according to a new study that adds up the social and financial costs of a grim statistic: one out of every 100 Americans is now incarcerated.

Oregon's prison population only increased 1 percent in the past year, but the state spends almost 11 percent of its budget on its prisons.

The Pew Research Institute's "Public Safety Performance Project" examined what people are getting – or giving up – for that money. For example, study director Adam Gelb says, for every dollar Oregon spends on higher education, it spends $1.06 on prisons.

"Corrections spending in Oregon has increased by 533 percent over the past 20 years. And it's not clear that people think they're seeing an adequate return on that investment, in terms of public safety."

The study offers suggestions for ways to control prison populations, including drug courts and short-term housing for substance abusers, and incentives for low-risk offenders and people on parole or probation. However, some of them are not acceptable for proponents of "tough on crime" policies.

Gelb says prisons are becoming more expensive to run, not only because there are more prisoners, but because the system is affected by the same higher health care and labor costs as other businesses. He says the budget crunch is forcing states to make changes.

"Recidivism rates are still high; corrections spending is crowding out funding for other pressing priorities like health care and education, particularly higher education. We've got to find a better way."

The study, "One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008," is available online at

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