OR Corrections Spending Ranks Second in Nation
SALEM, Ore. - Oregon is "spending wildly" on keeping people in prison, according to critics of the state's current rate of prison spending. They are reacting to a new report that ranks Oregon's investment in prisons higher than almost every other state. The National Association of State Budget Officers reports the Oregon Legislature allocates almost double the average percentage of general fund dollars to corrections. While the national average for prison spending is seven percent of a state's general fund, Oregon's spending is almost 13 percent.
Denise Welch, communications director for the Partnership for Safety and Justice, a criminal justice reform advocacy group, says there are better ways to spend that money.
"Shifting just a fraction of the dollars now spent on prisons to drug treatment and other crime prevention services would be a much more cost effective approach to increasing public safety."
Even with passage of ballot measures 66 and 67 this week, state revenue is down. Welch says Oregon needs to make it's money go further. In some cases, prison alternatives - like drug courts and drug treatment - save money, she adds.
"If Oregon continues to spend wildly on prisons and incarceration - something has to give. Building and filling prisons is expensive. There are smarter ways to spend our limited public safety dollars."
Oregon's corrections spending has been increasing since 1994, when Measure 11 was passed, mandating minimum sentences in criminal cases. Those who supported Measure 11 say it has been an effective crime deterrent. But, Welch points out it has also been costly; the state has built four prisons and expanded five others in the past decade to accommodate more prisoners. The budget officers' report says Oregon now spends more to lock up inmates than it does on higher education.
The full report is online at www.nasbo.org/Publications/StateExpenditureReport/tabid/79/Default.aspx.