After devastating cuts were made to the community corrections budget for the 2019-21 biennium, the House and Senate committees on Judiciary overviewed the budget development and implications to counties in a joint informational hearing during September legislative days. 

Legislative Fiscal Office Policy Analyst, Julie Neburka provided a full historical background of community corrections in Oregon, starting with the 1995 bill (SB 1145) that created the system with the goal of reducing recidivism, improving public safety, and holding offenders accountable. In her testimony, Neburka detailed the statutorily mandated baseline funding, which is the current service level for expenses of providing management, support services, supervision, and sanctions for offenders. Neburka noted that the statutory mandate is important because “the subsequent statutory language says that if that baseline funding is less than current service level, counties can opt out. They can give the service back to the state to provide.” This has occurred once in the early 2000’s and the state currently provides services for Linn and Douglas counties.

The final community corrections budget adopted by the Legislature was $268.4 million. Neburka explained that this was based on the forecasted caseload showing that the number of offenders has decreased from the previous biennium, and resulted a $4.6 million reduction in the base budget for the program. Unfortunately, for counties, in addition to this reduction, the budget did not incorporate the actual cost study, a study mandated every six years to identify time used and costs associated with the management of offenders. The study concluded that an additional $50 million would be needed to fully fund community corrections. 

These budget cuts mean significant losses of programs, services, and staff for county programs. Each county is looking deeply at how to balance the blow. Clackamas, Jackson, Lane, Multnomah, and Washington counties participated in the meeting and provided testimony detailing their cuts and the importance of fully funding this key program. 

Clackamas County Director of Community Corrections, Malcolm McDonald noted that their $1.4 million budget reduction will likely result in the closure of the county’s transition center. McDonald noted “Justice Reinvestment funding led to the creation of the transition center, which is a reentry resource center to build a bridge between incarceration and the community, providing quick resources as justice involved individuals are exiting from jail or seeking help while in supervision.” McDonald called out the benefit of the transition center to the community, noting it aided 400 justice involved individuals in garnering necessary services per month. Clackamas County also noted that 12 positions, mentor services, and housing resources were likely on the chopping block as well.

For Multnomah County, their $5.4 million budget cut means the likely elimination of 19 positions, programs for lower risk offenders, closing a jail dorm and eliminating associated staff, and reducing beds for adults in custody to be released on short-term transitional leave.

For Washington County, the reduction likely means closure of a 36-bed substance abuse program, elimination of contract recovery and peer mentors, reduction in subsidy housing beds for adults in custody to be released on short-term transitional leave, and 12 community corrections employee equivalents.

The budget process continues and the next step for counties will be to advocate in the Interim Joint Committee on Ways and Means at their November meeting. The committee has no budget authority during this time, but can hear reports and approve grant applications. The next opportunity for budget corrections occur during the 2020 Legislative Session, or during the next Emergency Board meeting. The board meets quarterly beginning May 2020 and can make allocations from the Emergency Fund, which has a $75 million appropriation. Commissioners should engage in this topic with local legislators. For more information, contact Association of Oregon Counties Legislative Affairs Manager, Patrick Sieng.

Contributed by: Megan Chuinard | Public Affairs Associate