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Eugene city leaders discuss the cost of incarceration

According to the Oregon Department of Corrections, billions are spent every year holding over 20,000 people in Oregon jails and prisons.

Posted: Jan 17, 2020 5:24 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- According to the Oregon Department of Corrections, billions are spent every year holding over 20,000 people in Oregon jails and prisons. Friday, Eugene City Club members discussed possible solutions to this growing and costly problem.

Some say too many resources are focused on the inmate after they're in prison as opposed to fixing the problem before it happens.

According to Clint Riley, captain for the Lane County jail, the jail has a $33 million annual budget, $17 million of which is funded by a levy approved by taxpayers. However, he also said the jail looks to many alternate solutions to housing inmates.

"If somebody has a job, has a home, they have a family and they have things going on in the community and they can maneuver the court system, I am in full support of them doing that back home," Riley began. "When we release them from jail, the hardest thing to do is find housing. Get them back into the community and get them working."

Presenters also discussed the emotional cost incarceration takes on a community, including what happens to children who have to enter the foster system due to parental incarceration.

Laura Johnson, program director for Sponsors, a rehabilitation resource for inmates, says if we catch people at a point of early intervention, incarceration is entirely avoidable.

"Fifty-eight percent of people who are currently held in Oregon state prisons have a diagnosed mental health need," said Johnson. "More than 67 percent have a history of substance abuse disorder or addiction. The correlation between past trauma and criminal system involvement is a known and proven one."

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