The big idea got kind of lost in the discussion over the governor's budget last week, but it could be a good move for Oregon if the legislature actually signs off on it this spring.
Here are the basics: Oregon's prison population, along with the rest of the country's, has been spiraling upwards for 30 years. Recently, we've been adding about 150 inmates a year... which doesn't sound like much, until you learn that each inmate costs the state about $85 each day. That's not even factoring in the economic costs of families losing a wage earner and those Oregonians being less employable when they get out of prison.
Keeping the prison population steady will save $17.8 million next year, according to the state. What's really good about Kitzahber's budget, though, is it doesn't just cut the money saved by flatlining prisons, but increases the corrections budget 10 percent and promises to invest the savings plus the new money in programs that will keep more Oregonians out of prison long-term. Those are programs like drug court, which sentences people to treatment instead of just jail time, and community corrections, which keeps offenders under supervision in the outside world rather than behind bars.
Let's hope the details of this plan—due next month—are as good as they could be. In the meantime, read my full story on the topic here.