Oregon Faces 14 Percent Growth in Prison Population

SALEM, Ore. — The state prison population will increase by an estimated 14 percent to a record level of approximately 16,000 inmates during the next six years, according to population projections by state’s Office of Economic Analysis.

A semi-annual inmate population forecast, which predicts monthly populations over a 10-year period, identified recently enacted legislation as the primary driver behind the projected increase of about 2,000 inmates. The Oregon Department of Corrections currently operates 14 prisons statewide with approximately 14,450 beds.

The prison population of 14,000 inmates is predicted to increase by 700 inmates next year, before declining again to about 14,000 by 2012, according to the report. However, the 2012 backslide will be followed by steady annual increases of 2 percent to 3 percent through 2016.

The growth trend can be largely attributed to a 2008 voter-approved initiative that introduced mandatory minimum sentences for a number of criminal offenses and offender classifications, including certain violent crimes, and drug-related crimes and repeat property offenders, according to the Office of Economic Analysis.

The forecast takes into account the number of inmates in the state prison system, offenders on probation, parole, and post-prison supervision, and felony offenders serving sentences of 12 or fewer months in county jails. The forecasted increase in the prison population will be made up of approximately 500 female inmates and 1,600 male inmates.

In addition to the state prison population reaching an all time high, the community corrections population is forecast to increase from 33,000 to 37,000 during the next 10 years.

However, the upward trend in population would have a minimal impact on the state’s ability to accommodate adult male offenders because of measures already in place or in the planning stage, says Nathan Allen, DOC planning and budget administrator.

In September 2007, the DOC opened the minimum-security portion of the Deer Ridge Correctional Institution in Madras. The $190 million facility includes 644 minimum-security beds. The 1,223-bed medium-security housing component could be opened in 2013, Allen says.

The DOC planned to start construction on a 1,794-bed minimum- and medium-security facility near Junction City last summer on the basis of previous population forecasts predicting even higher inmate growth. However, work on the $350 million project was put on hold in the wake of statewide budget cuts.

The state has no current plans to open more women’s facilities to handle the population increase. The Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, a women’s prison in Wilsonville, Oregon, will open its final unit in April 2010, still leaving the state short approximately 500 beds in 2016, if projections hold true.

Alternatives within the system will be evaluated to see if there is a way to redesign one of the existing male facilities to make it appropriate for females, according to officials.