Blue Mountain Community College furloughed nine employees last week.
The temporary release of the employees came several weeks after the Oregon Department of Corrections suspended all visits to the prison and also locked out personnel working in prison education programs. The DOC said the change was necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the state’s correctional institutions.
BMCC holds the contract to provide education services to inmates at Pendleton’s Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla, and Powder River Correctional Facility in Baker City.
The nine employees worked at EOCI and TRCI. Their furlough began April 13 and will last until at least June 13.
State officials originally notified educational partners on March 13 about the suspension of education contracts, but didn’t immediately stop payments to the college. That move came about a month later.
“On April 12th, we again notified our education partners that we needed to suspend the education contracts until the governor lifted the state of emergency,” said DOC spokeswoman Jennifer Black, via email. “The suspension, rather than a contract termination, will allow us to more easily restart the education programs.”
In a letter to inmates, state corrections director Collette Peters said stopping visits and education was the first in department history.
“The decision did not come lightly,” she wrote. “We value visiting, we value your connections with your loved ones, and we value all of the activities and programs available to you. Visiting, education, programming, special events make incarceration what it should be — an opportunity to learn and grow and prepare to become neighbors once again.”
BMCC, the largest provider contracted by the state DOC system, is contracted to instruct 961 inmates across the three prisons, according to Casey White-Zollman, BMCC’s vice-president of college relations and advancement. The DOC also contracts with Treasure Valley Community College, Portland Community College, Central Oregon Community College in Bend, Chemeketa Community College in Salem and Southwestern Community College in Coos Bay.
Treasure Valley, which provides education services at the Snake River Correctional Facility and at the Warner Creek Correctional Facility near Lakeview, laid off 19 employees after receiving the DOC notice.
White-Zollman said BMCC’s faculty association is working to draw up a memorandum of understanding regarding expectations for the remaining 15 full-time faculty members and four part-time faculty members who worked in the prison education program.