After more than a year of study Oregon's Public Safety Commission has come out with 19 recommendations to reduce prison spending while improving public safety. This session the Oregon Legislature will vote on the proposals, in the form of House Bill 3194. The bill, currently under discussion behind the scenes, would faltline prison growth saving a projected $600 million in increased prison spending. Some of that money would go to victims' services, and community corrections–which advocates say is a smarter long-term strategy.
Gov. Kitzhaber, prison director Colette Peters, former Chief Justice Paul De Muniz, Reps. Chris Garrett and Andy Olsen and Sens. Jackie Winters and Floyd Prozanski support the reforms. So do victims advocates, such as the Portland Women's Crisis Line, and even business groups including Portland Business Alliance. But Oregon's District Attorneys and their allies, such as Crime Victims United, have pursued a campaign against the reforms.
The 19 recommendations in the bill are:
1. Reduce sentences for cannabis crimes to match federal sentencing guidelines. Only applies to future convictions not to anyone already sentenced.
2. Reduce the penalty for Driving While Suspended, Currently sentences can be up to 25 months in prison, and the average is 17 months. The bill would cut future sentences to probation or jail time of 12 months or less. Only applies to future convictions not to anyone already sentenced.
3. Would remove or reduce mandatory minimums from Measure 11 sentences for people convicted of Robbery 2, Assault 2, and Sex Abuse 1. Why? All three crimes cover a broad range of crimes, some much less dangerous than others.
Robbery 2, for example, covers offenses with very different levels of violence. It can include the two teenagers who steal from a convenience store and push a man down as they run away, as well as the person who holds a loaded gun at a victim's head and demands money. Assault 2 charges can mean hitting somebody with a shoe or beating someone so badly that they need hospitalized. Sex abuse 1 can mean touching a teen over their clothes, to sexual contact short of rape. These three crimes account for 10 percent of new prisoners.
The proposal offered two options: The first would allow judges to sentence according to current guidelines, while taking into consideration offenders' criminal history and the seriousness of the offense. The second option would reduce the mandatory minimum to 36 months. Only applies to future convictions not to anyone already sentenced.
4. Gives judges leeway when sentencing repeat property and drug offenders. Judges would be able to sentence repeat offenders in 16 property and 21 drug crimes, to the current maximum, but could choose a lower sentence. Ranges could be set at 19-24 months or 13-18 months. This also would allow offenders sentenced under these crimes to go into transitional release programs, which are associated with better outcomes. These crimes are a major reason for the increase in the proportion of nonviolent offenders in the prison system. Only applies to future convictions not to anyone already sentenced.
5. Expands the transitional leave period from 30 days to 90 days. Offenders in the community on transitional leave are supervised by community corrections and can be returned to prison if they fail to comply. Community corrections staff say it makes sense to stabilize offenders in the community over a longer period. Only applies to future convictions not to anyone already sentenced.
6. Expand "earned time" from 20 percent to 30 percent of sentence length. Prisoners can earn earlier release with good behavior and by taking part in prison education and rehabilitation programs. Prisoners would have to meet rigorous requirements to earn earlier release. It would not apply to Measure 11 prisoners. Only applies to future convictions not to anyone already sentenced.
7. Expands the Alternatives to Incarceration program. Prisoners enter a six-month regimen that includes 14-16 hours a day of programming. Then they do 3 months of programming in a non-prison setting. Prisoners can earn 20 percent off their sentence if they complete both phases successfully. The reform does not apply to Measure 11 or any sex crimes prisoners. Only applies to future convictions not to anyone already sentenced.
8. The "second look" recommendation, would allow all youth offenders sentenced as adults to go before a judge after they have served 50 percent and 75 percent of their sentences. The judge then decides if the young offender has been "rehabilitated and reformed" based on their record in custody. Currently "second look" does not apply to youth sentenced under Measure 11. Reform would only apply to future convictions not to anyone already sentenced.
9. The average length of time offenders spend under community supervision has increased since 2000: 38 percent for probationers and 15 percent for post-prison supervision. This reform would allow offenders to earn an earlier discharge from supervision. Offenders could earn earlier discharge through: following the rules, taking part in programs to prevent reoffending and paying restitution.
10. Gives community corrections officers leeway to decide severity of sanctions for non-criminal rule violations. Allows for a graduated and evidence –based response to violations. A corrections officer could require more frequent telephone contacts, substance abuse treatment, drug testing, or a curfew, while using shorter jail time.
11. Requires conditions of probation to be set by community corrections staff instead of at sentencing. Community corrections staff must use a risk and needs assessment when setting conditions of probation.
12. Creates an oversight body to monitor the outcomes of the proposed reforms and report back to the Legislature and the Governor for the next four years.
13. Currently Oregon defines recidivism as afelony conviction within three years of release from prison. This reform would expand the definition of recidivism to include all re-arrests, re-convictions and returns to prison.
14. Creates statewide standards for Oregon's specialty drug, veterans and mental health courts. Standards would be based on 37 recommendations from a study of how well Oregon's specialty courts are working.
15. Requires that the prison forecast reports from Oregon's Office of Economic Analysis include a breakdown of prison growth to help identify the impact of policies and crime trends.
16. Requires standards for evaluation correction programs evaluation across the state. Requires standards for saying programs are "cost-effective" or "evidence-based."
17. Proposed changes to sentencing or corrections must contain a 10-year impact forecast.
18. Gives performance-based grants to counties that reduce recidivism and cut the number of offenders they send to prison.
19. Current cost for a prison inmate is $82.48 per day, up 65 percent since 1995. The reform recommends that the Legislature set a 10-year target to reduce the cost per day, while preserving prison security and rehabilitation programs.