SALEM — Despite the 2007 ceremony meant to mark its opening, Deer Ridge Correctional Institution outside Madras has housed prison inmates only in its minimum-security section.
The 1,224-bed medium-security portion of the prison remains mothballed. And it’s likely to stay that way if Oregon lawmakers adopt Gov. John Kitzhaber’s plan for state prisons outlined in his 2013-15 budget. The plan allows for a growth in inmate population of just 300, or 2,000 fewer beds than the state projected.
If state lawmakers in the coming legislative session agree to cap the total inmate population at 14,600, it could mean the medium-security portion of Deer Ridge would remain shuttered another 10 years.
Madras Mayor Melanie Widmer said the 200 jobs the minimum-security portion of the prison brought to the community have made a positive impact. But people haven’t forgotten about the facility sitting empty behind the hill.
“I hear scuttlebutt here and there, ‘oh, if only,’ or ‘eventually it would be nice’ or ‘what a waste,’” Widmer said.
The community, she said, would like the medium-security portion open. “But obviously, local people have no control over that happening,” Widmer said.
At one point, state officials discussed closing older state institutions and moving the inmates to Deer Ridge in order to trim costs and more efficiently manage the prison system.
Talk of adding more minimum-security bunks to the medium-security portion of Deer Ridge also took place.
Neither idea gained traction.
“Certainly any consolidation isn’t in the governor’s budget right now,” said Cameron Smith, the governor’s senior policy adviser on military, veterans and emergency management.
Smith pointed to the commission on public safety’s recommendations, released this week, that advocate funneling more money into prevention programs.
“The whole intent is to try and steer resources going to state prisons ... into proven community correction and prevention measures in our local communities,” Smith said.
Along with keeping a portion of Deer Ridge closed, Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem would remain closed, and any build-out of the state prison in Junction City would also remain on hold.
Department of Corrections Director Colette Peters said the current system “can absorb 300 inmates,” which is the cap the governor has proposed in his budget.