Snake River Correctional Institution outside Ontario. (FILE/The Enterprise)

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This story now includes new quotes from Abby Lee, TVCC associate vice president and Jennifer Black, communications manager for the Oregon Department of Corrections.

ONTARIO – The state Corrections Department has suspended its education program for inmates provided by Treasure Valley Community College, triggering the immediate layoff of 19 college employees.

Abby Lee, TVCC associate vice president, said in a statement Tuesday would be the last day of work for the employees.

The move came as another reaction by the state to dealing with the global pandemic. Gov. Kate Brown has said she is also considering releasing some inmates who are near the end of their sentences to create more room in prisons.

"Our understanding is this is simply a response to the economic crisis the state of Oregon is projecting at this time and to the COVID-19 virus. During the emergency order, all education services at the prison were cancelled so these employees are unable to return to the prisons to teach students. This is clearly an effort to save dollars at the state level. We are hopeful we can get this contract back in place as soon as possible," said Lee in an email Tuesday morning to the Enterprise.

The college workers provided GED classes and English classes to inmates at Snake River Correctional Institution outside Ontario and Warner Creek Correctional Facility, a minimum-security prison outside Lakeview.

State officials notified the college Friday that it wanted to suspend the contract for the teaching for at least two months.

“The state required an immediate contract with TVCC requiring payments for these services to end on April 12, 2020,” according to Lee’s statement, issued Monday night.

According to TVCC’s website, the college provides educational services to about 650 inmates a year at Snake River. The prison currently houses 2,715 inmates. The college website said inmates are provided GED courses, adult basic skills education or English as a Second Language classes, usually as part of the inmate’s individual plan. The college also provided a building construction program.

The college also furnishes one employee for educational services at Warner Creek Correctional Facility in Lakeview.

The program suspension means the college loses state money to pay for the employees and additional revenue for administering the education services.

Faculty will get 30 days of pay and other employees will receive their accrued vacation pay.

“We hope this is a temporary delay in services as the state deals with revenue changes due to the statewide response to COVID-19 closures, although no additional information as to when services will resume,” Lee said in her statement.

The Corrections Department also contracts with Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton for education services at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton, Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla and Powder River Correctional Facility in Baker City.

The agency’s website also lists education contracts with Portland Community College, Central Oregon Community College in Bend, Chemeketa Community College in Salem, and Southwestern Oregon Community College in Coos Bay.

The education contracts with all of those educational institutions are suspended - though not terminated - said Jennifer Black, communications manager for the Oregon Department of Corrections, in an email Tuesday morning.

"At this time, there are no education programs occurring inside our institutions," Black wrote.

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