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More than China, more than Russia, the United States of America not incarcerates more of its citizens than any country, but at a higher rate as well. And although that rate has trended down since 2008’s high mark of 1,000 inmates per 100,000 adults, the current rate of incarceration is still nearly three times higher than it was in 1980.


In Oregon, at any given time, nearly 23,000 men, women and children are incarcerated in Oregon’s federal and state prisons, county jails, and youth correctional facilities. Nearly half of those in prisons have been diagnosed with a mental illness or developmental disability. The Oregon Health Authority reports that “[e]very year in Oregon an estimated 26,000 people are released from jails and 5,500 are released from state and federal prison.”


Incarcerating these tens of thousands of individuals costs taxpayers billions of dollars every year. An Oregon Department of Corrections report notes that the state legislature adopted a corrections budget for 2019 – 2021 that was 18% higher than the approved budget of the last biennium —  an increase from about $1.8 billion to over $2.2 billion. For comparison, over the same period, the state maintained the same expenditure amount for higher education at $736.9 million, meaning that the State of Oregon will spend about three times as much on corrections as on higher education.


Those numbers don’t take into account the costs borne by the parents, spouses, children and employers of those incarcerated. Nor do those public expenditures factor in the additional costs for the social services provided to people after they’ve been released from jails and prisons who often rely on the state and county for health care and employment services. Families and communities may also bear the additional burden of households deprived of wage earners and children their guardians, which can result in DHS taking custody of orphaned youth who are then transferred into the foster care system.

Are these costs worth it? Are most Oregonians aware of the number of lives and the amount of money that has been invested in our system of corrections?


Andy Ko, Laura Johnson and Captain Clint Riley will discuss the financial and human costs borne by Oregonians in order to lock up the men, women and children convicted of criminal activity.



Andy Ko is the Executive Director of the Partnership for Safety and Justice, a Portland-based criminal justice reform advocacy group.  He previously held positions with the American Civil Liberties Union, was the founding director of the Drug Policy Reform Project in Seattle, and represented homeless and low-income people in New York City. He is a graduate of Tufts University and New York University School of Law.


Captain Clint Riley is the Lane County Jail Commander. He began his career in corrections with the Arizona Department of Corrections before relocating to Oregon in 1994 where he next served as a deputy in the Corrections Division with the Lane County Sheriff’s Office. Since then, he’s subsequently been assigned to the main Jail, Forest Work Camp, Public Information Office, and the Community Service Office and held rank as Deputy Sheriff, Sergeant, and Lieutenant.  

Laura Johnson is Director of Program Development at Sponsors, a Eugene-based reentry organization that serves people with conviction histories. She previously served as Deputy Program Manager with the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama and as Assistant Director of the University of Oregon School of Law’s Appropriate Dispute Resolution Center.