LAKEVIEW, Ore. — A minimum-security state prison in Lake County again faces the prospect of closure following the release of Governor Kate Brown's budget proposal on Tuesday.
Warner Creek Correctional Facility in Lakeview was one of two prisons put on the chopping block in July as lawmakers looked to offset revenue losses caused by the coronavirus lockdown. But when the dust settled after a second 2020 Special Session, both Warner Creek and Shutter Creek Correctional Institution in North Bend survived the cuts.
Brown's budget proposal for the 2021-23 biennium identifies Warner Creek, Shutter Creek, and the Mill Creek Correctional Facility in Salem for closure. The cuts would save the state an estimated $42.7 million from the general fund within the next two years, on top of maintenance and repair costs.
"This is a direct a result of the declining prison population, increased commutations and success of the Short-Term Transitional Leave program," Brown's budget document notes.
The July push to close Warner Creek drew fierce resistance from the Lake County community, which considers the prison to be an economic boon. This time, the plan to close three prisons has drawn attention from Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod, who criticized the proposal in a Wednesday statement.
“I am deeply concerned for Oregonians’ public safety with Governor Brown’s decision to close three state prisons yesterday. There is a potential for an increase in crime, especially when there are no details on who is being released or relocated," Sen. Girod said. “Before the Legislature does anything, Governor Brown must share the plan of where inmates will go, who will be released and how law enforcement, vendor and support staff jobs will be protected."
Brown began commuting the sentences for some inmates in June due to COVID-19, taking recommendations from Department of Corrections leadership. Those inmates were considered medically vulnerable, within just a few months of their scheduled release date, or both.
Several of Oregon's state prisons have been the site of large and deadly COVID-19 outbreaks among both prisoners and DOC staff. Unless a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available by the time these three prisons are shuttered, it is unclear how state officials would safely transfer inmates to other facilities, many of them with ongoing outbreaks.
For Lakeview, arguments against the closures stem primarily from economic anxiety after nearly a year of coronavirus upsets.
“Two of the prisons are in rural Oregon communities already under significant stress due to the COVID-19 lockdowns, and the years of neglect as the Portland area has been given priority," Girod continued.
According to Girod's office, Mill Creek in Salem would be the first prison to close, set for July of 2021. Shutter Creek in Bend would follow, with Warner Creek in Lakeview the last to shut its doors.