HAUSER — Shutter Creek Correctional Institute near Hauser was one of two prisons recommended for closure by state budget writers.
The cut was recommended to try saving school funding and other programs amid a huge budget shortfall created by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has left many people out of work and businesses closed.
“There’s no definite plan yet,” said Betty Bernt, communication’s manager for Oregon Department of Corrections, about the proposal.
According to Bernt, the State Legislature has to vote on the proposal during the next special session. If it is approved, Shutter Creek would close by June 2021.
“(But) we’re waiting for the vote in the special session,” she said. “We don’t have a plan to know for sure and are still talking to the legislature and governor’s office.”
The Legislature’s budget writing committee recommended closing both Shutter Creek and the Warner Creek Correctional Facility near Lakeview. Combined, the two house nearly 800 inmates.
If the proposal is approved, Warner Creek would close during the 2021-23 biennium under the budget framework, released Thursday and first reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting.
When asked what might happen to the inmates at Shutter Creek if it is shut down, Bernt said the governor may look at early release potential. Otherwise, the inmates would “be distributed to our other minimum custody facilities.”
Lawmakers have made a priority of protecting the $9 billion state school fund, which pays for K-12 education in the state.
Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, a co-chair of the Legislature’s budget writing committee, said lawmakers also want to keep intact money for early learning and statewide initiatives slated to be funded by a new sales tax on businesses and also maintain funding for universities and community colleges.
“We think that this next year is going to be extremely critical in terms of providing services for vulnerable Oregonians,” Rayfield said in an Associated Press story. “We were leery about making cuts (to those things), which caused us to look at other cuts.”
Shutter Creek was acquired by the state from the U.S. General Services Administration in 1990 and converted into a 302-bed minimum-security prison sitting on 56 acres. The site east of Hauser formerly was an Air National Guard radar station.
The inmates are minimum-security inmates within four years of their release from the prison system.
Inmates from the prison work along the South Coast in various work crews, primarily with the Department of Forestry, as well as working on site. They also have worked on fire crews in the past.
Warner Creek Correctional Institute, located four miles northwest of Lakeview, is also a minimum-security prison that opened in 2005, according to the Department of Corrections website. It received the State Energy Efficiency Design award in 2008 for its progress in design efficiency, with the most efficient element being its use of geothermal energy that provides 100 percent of the hot water to the facility.
The 13-page budget rebalance plan includes proposed cuts from six different legislative subcommittees — Education, Human Services, Public Safety, Natural Resources, Transportation and Economic Development, and General Government.
The document says Rayfield and fellow co-chairs Sens. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward and Betsy Johnson “identified programs and services critical to Oregonians that must be preserved and worked to protect essential investments in public education, health care, child welfare, housing, economic development and other critical areas during this unprecedented public health and economic crisis.”
State economists predicted in May that reduced income taxes and lottery revenues could result in the state taking in $2.7 billion less in expected revenue during the two-year budget cycle that ends in June 2021.
Proposals include nearly $400 million in cuts and administrative savings as well as pulling $400 million from a state reserve fund for schools and tapping other resource adjustments to close a nearly $1.1 billion budget gap.
More than $180 million in reduced spending would come within human services, more than $80 million of that by holding positions vacant.
Other savings comes in delayed equipment purchases, such as canceling scheduled Oregon State Police vehicle purchases and deferring forensic laboratory equipment replacement.
Bernt said that periodically Department of Corrections, when there is a funding crisis, will go through a “worse-case-scenario” exercise looking at prison closures. But she said it has never come to this level “where the legislature proposed it back to us.”
“We’ve never had it brought to us like this, so this is new…,” she said. “We’re hoping it doesn’t get voted through….”
On the South Coast, the biggest change is the proposal to close Shutter Creek, which employs 87 people.
In regards to difficulties surrounding potentially closing Shutter Creek, Bernt pointed to the staff.
“…We would relocate some to facilities if that’s an option, if they’re willing to relocate, but people would likely have to be laid off,” she said. “This is a big employer for little communities like that. … We’re concerned and looking forward to the vote.”
The prison has been a fixture on the South Coast for nearly three decades.
Shutter Creek also was the initial site for the SUMMIT program of the Oregon Department of Corrections, housing the educational program for most of two decades before it was moved to Columbia River Correctional Institute in 2012.
The program (Success Using Motivation, Morale, Intensity and Treatment) is a six-month rehabilitation program that prepares inmates for early release. If they complete the program, they enter a 90-day transitional release period, and if they meet all the requirements of their transitional release, the rest of their sentence is eliminated.
When SUMMIT moved away from the prison, Shutter Creek turned its focus to preparing inmates near the end of their sentences from six Southern Oregon counties — Coos, Curry, Douglas, Lane, Jackson and Josephine — for release back into society, using the same techniques that were successful in the SUMMIT program.
Shutter Creek offers basic GED classes, life-skills classes and 12-step and Alcoholics Anonymous programs.
Editor's Note: The Associated Press contributed to this story.