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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Oregon Lawmakers Delay Decision On Whether To Open Second Women's Prison

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The Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville is Oregon's only prison for female inmates.

Oregon lawmakers are delaying a decision on whether to open a second women's prison. A legislative panel voted Wednesday to deny a funding request from the Oregon Department of Corrections.

Oregon has one prison for female inmates, the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville. But the Department of Corrections said the inmate population there exceeds its capacity, and that isn't projected to change any time soon. The agency wants funding to re-open a shuttered minimum security prison in Salem.

That message resonated with Republican Rep. Greg Smith.

“We've got a problem here,” he said. “We’ve got employees who are working in an unsafe environment. And I think we need to deal with that immediately."

But most lawmakers on the legislature's Emergency Board voted to deny the funding request. They said they'd revisit the issue during the 2017 legislative session.

The funding request came as lawmakers prepare to tackle a budget shortfall next year that's expected to top $1.7 billion. Democrat Richard Devlin, the top Senate budget-writer, said the legislature and the Department of Corrections will need to come up with a plan to reduce the inmate population at Coffee Creek by mid-March.

"If we can't, I think we will be left with the inevitable reality that we will have to open the women's correctional facility," he said.

Republican Senator Fred Girod agreed. He said the rejection of the funding request wasn't an outright denial.

"All we're doing is delaying a decision until March 15th" Girod said. "I think it gives us time to make a prudent decision."