Oregon prison chief tells TVCC, other colleges the state is dropping teaching contracts

ONTARIO – Treasure Valley Community College will soon be out of the business of educating inmates in basic schooling, ending 20 years of serving Oregon’s largest prison.

The Oregon Corrections Department on Friday turned down an offer from TVCC and five other community colleges to reshape in-prison schooling to cut costs.

For TVCC, that means shutting down a program in January at Snake River Correctional Institution that paid the college about $2 million a year and involved 19 college instructors. The college also taught classes at Warner Creek Correctional Facility in Lakeview.

The Ontario college and others have been scrambling for a month to forestall the change.

Colette Peters, Corrections Department director, said in a letter to the colleges that their latest plan to keep the business didn’t meet the state’s needs.

DOCUMENT: State letter to colleges

She included a point-by-point critique that found the community college bid wanting in almost every way.

“Our policy decision to bring education in-house is a continued reflection of our ongoing commitment to effectively prepare adults in custody (AICs) for their eventual reentry into our communities,” Peters wrote in her letter dated Oct. 16.

She was reacting to a joint letter from the Oregon Community College Association that criticized the prison agency while trying to pitch a new deal. The letter represented TVCC, Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Central Oregon Community College in Bend, Portland Community College and Southwestern Oregon Community College in Coos Bay.

DOCUMENT: Colleges letter to state

In their letter, the colleges said they would cut overall costs to the Corrections Department by 15%. But that also would mean reducing how much service state prisons get.

“Reductions across the college would be absorbed through employee reductions and other cost-cutting measures,” the college letter said. “The significant level of reduction across all six colleges will impact the services AICs receive as well as the employees who deliver those services.”

The colleges at the same time said new classes would be offered at Mill Creek Correctional Facility in Salem and South Fork Forest Camp in Tillamook.

The colleges also criticized the agency’s plan for educating inmates itself, saying its staff “may lack expertise,” that it features “unrealistic programming hours,” and that it assumes it can take $2.5 million separately allocated to colleges to support prison classes.

“We strongly believe community colleges remain the best choice for offering primary education services in Oregon’s correctional system,” the letter said.

Peters and her team found otherwise.

The Corrections Department analysis found, as the colleges noted, that the prison system would get less service than before and that only one college committed to providing year-round teaching while others still would take traditional academic breaks.

The agency said the colleges didn’t answer the need for a minimum of six hours per week of school for inmates, standard schedules at each prison, and a plan to continue schooling when some staff were absent.

At the end of her “no deal” letter, Peters told the college presidents that her decision “does not diminish our appreciation of and acknowledgement for our history together.”

Contact editor Les Zaitz by email at [email protected].

GET YOUR LOCAL NEWS FROM REAL PROFESSIONALS: Reader support allows the Enterprise to provide in-depth, accurate reporting that otherwise would not get done. Keeping the community well informed is essential. SUBSCRIBE – $5 a month, automatically. DONATE – to provide additional support.