PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Following a Clark County court ruling on Monday, Larch Mountain Correctional Center is shutting down Oct. 10, in a decision against union member claims that the Department of Corrections mishandled the planned closure.
Teamsters Local Union No. 117 alleged that the DOC committed a number of violations ahead of the closure, which was originally set for Oct. 1, 2023. The union claimed the agency refused to bargain over the closure, violated worker’s seniority rights, and improperly offered jobs to bargaining members in exchange for ceasing union activities, Teamsters Local Union No. 117 said in a press release.
The union also alleged that the DOC violated Gov. Inslee’s emergency proclamation to address ongoing wildfires in the state by dis-establishing inmate fire suppression crews.
The union sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the DOC from laying off bargaining members, dissolving the fire crews, and taking other action ahead of the closure.
The Superior Court of Clark County ruled in favor of the Department of Corrections, saying the agency has the authority to shutter the minimum-security prison because the agency “engaged in an appropriate analysis that considered a variety of factors prior to making its decision to close Larch and the decision was made as a result of a ‘lack of work,’ court documents said.
The court added that the plaintiffs failed to show how the DOC violated the governor’s emergency proclamation.
According to the DOC, people who are incarcerated have already been transferred to other facilities across the state and a majority of prison employees have accepted positions at other DOC facilities or state agencies — noting 10 employees will still work at the prison to “ensure that the facility does not fall into disrepair.”
Officials said the prison is “‘warm closed,'” meaning it could re-open in the future.
DOC Secretary Cheryl Strange lauded the prison’s closure in favor of providing better health care and educational resources in other facilities.
“This is the result of investments made by the governor and legislature in sentencing alternatives and more humane treatment of those convicted of drug crimes,” Strange said. “We have an abundance of minimum-security beds and need to refocus our resources to provide those in our care and custody with the mental health, educational, programming and health care access best suited to meet their needs. We are pleased the court recognized our authority to close Larch.”
The DOC announced the prison’s closure in June to address “declining incarceration trends,” officials said – noting mandated releases during the pandemic, sentencing alternative programs and changes to sentencing laws led to an abundance of minimum-security beds.