On the heels of a decision to keep a similar facility open, State Rep. Boomer Wright is asking Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to reconsider her plans to close Coos County’s Shutter Creek Correctional Institution.
Brown announced last week she was backtracking on plans to close the Warner Creek Correctional Facility in south central Oregon — but she isn’t reconsidering her intention to close Shutter Creek, the minimum-security facility near North Bend, at the end of the year.
“Because of previous reforms – such as SB 1008 and HB 3194 – the growth of the prison population in Oregon has slowed to the point where we no longer need to maintain costly prison capacity and we can move forward with reductions in beds,” said Charles Boyle, a spokesperson for the governor, referencing two recent bills which reduced some mandatory sentences.
In her budget proposal for the current legislative session, Brown laid out plans to shut down three of the state’s prisons to save on costs: the Mill Creek Correctional Facility near Salem, Warner Creek near Lakeview and Shutter Creek.
But Wright, who represents the coast from Coos Bay to Yachats, says the decision to close Shutter Creek is just one of many hits the South Coast’s economy has taken, with the recent pause of the Jordan Cove Energy Project, the low levels of harvest planned in the Elliott State Forest and declines in the fishing industry and hatchery system.
“And on top of that, the economic detriment will be to Coos County and, of course, Lakeside area. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just asinine,” Wright said in an interview.
Brown last week punted on her plans to close the Warner Creek facility after pressure from Lake County commissioners and facility supporters.
The Lake County Examiner reported that advocates there stressed the importance of the facility to the region’s economy, citing estimates that the closure of the prison would eliminate around a hundred jobs and have other secondary impacts on the community.
“The long and short of it is, I’m making the decision at this time to not close your facility and to leave the decision to the next governor,” Brown told the Lake County supporters during a board of commissioners meeting, according to the newspaper’s reports.
Wright said he’s meeting with the governor Monday, and plans to ask her to hold off on closing the facility or hold a town hall with employees and community members who might be impacted.
“She’s only going to be a governor for another year. Let’s just hold off and let the next governor decide what’s going to happen, and maybe that person will have a whole different idea,” Wright said. “If we’re talking about her major focus for this session has been equity. Well, let’s have a little equity, the equity between what’s happening at Warner Creek and Shutter Creek.”
In Coos County, the governor’s plans to close the facilities have been met with opposition from employees, cities and community members.
In March, around 100 people — largely Shutter Creek employees and their families — gathered at the Coos Bay Boardwalk to protest the plan. They highlighted the fact that many of them will have to move away from the area or find new jobs after the closure.
The closure’s impact on the community has been a focus, too: Officials in Lakeside have said the loss of the facility’s sewer system contract could cost the city a fifth of its revenue and likely force increases in sewer rates.
Liz Merah, another spokesperson for the governor, said economic factors like those lead to the decision not to close the Warner Creek facility.
“It is important to the governor to balance criminal justice reform efforts with the real impacts to our smaller, rural communities. Given the community impacts of closing Warner Creek, the governor decided not to move forward with the closure of this facility,” Merah wrote.
Still, the decision on the Lake County facility doesn’t impact plans for Shutter Creek. Boyle said the governor’s plans to close the prison align with her priorities to reform the state’s criminal justice system.
“The Governor ultimately would like to reduce our state’s reliance on incarceration and invest more dollars in the program areas that work to prevent people from entering the criminal justice system, such as behavioral health, education, housing, and substance use disorder recovery and treatment,” Boyle wrote.
Boyle said the governor has the executive authority to move forward with the closures herself, but that she expects there will be additional discussion of the plan during the current legislative session.
According to Wright, that legislative action hasn’t come yet. Both bills he’s sponsored to support the facility haven’t moved.
He’s hoping that a town hall on the topic and calls, letters and emails to the governor’s office can change Brown’s mind.
“If she can sleep at night after listening to these people and how this is all going to affect (them), I will be very surprised” Wright said. “I think she’s a compassionate person, I just have a feeling that maybe she’s not getting all the information. But that’s just me.”