10-21-2016  6:05 am      •     
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Public safety reformers want to focus more resources on re-entry programs and less on prisons. Pictured: staff from the Volunteers of America re-entry program for youth tried as adults

Oregon's proposed public safety reforms are still under discussion in Salem.  When House Bill 3194 finally does get a vote, it may not include two of the most controversial proposals.

"It's a disappointment that the Measure 11 reforms are going to be carved out," says David Rogers, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group, the Partnership for Safety and Justice.  "But if the rest of the public safety reform package goes through, it will still be a really huge deal and will take a huge stride toward flatlining prison growth."

Gov. Kitzhaber created the bipartisan Commission on Public Safety to find ways to halt spiraling prison costs. After two years of work, the commission came up with 19 proposals, designed to save $600 million over 10 years. 

The reform proposals include:  
  • reducing sentences for cannabis crimes to match federal sentences
  • giving judges sentencing leeway for certain property crimes
  • expanding  the Alternatives to Incarceration treatment program
  • increasing the amount of time prisoners could earn for early release.
  • See the Full List here

Why does Oregon need corrections reform? Read Busted: Six myths about Oregons' prisons.
Reps. Chris Garrett and Andy Olsen and Sens. Jackie Winters and Floyd Prozanski were on the commission and have led the effort to create a bill that can pass the Oregon Legislature.

Two amendments are still under discussion. Both include 17 of the reforms. But neither one includes the two proposals that affect Measure 11.

One of the proposals would have allowed judges to vary sentences for three Measure 11 crimes: Robbery 2, Assault 2, and Sex Abuse 1, which all can vary widely in severity.  Together these three crimes comprise 10 percent of new inmates.

 The other Measure 11 reform is the "second look" idea, which would have allowed judges to consider reducing sentences  for youth tried as adults, after they have served 50 percent and  75 percent of their sentences.

But any changes to Measure 11 would need a two-thirds majority to pass.  A staffer from Rep. Garrett's office said the support was not there. 

District attorneys and law enforcement groups have opposed the reform effort altogether, especially the move to reduce mandatory minimums for any Measure 11 crimes.

"The professional public safety community including Sheriffs, Chiefs and District Attorneys have been unwaveringly direct from the first day of the commission's work that we will not support any reforms which substantially impact the very successful mandatory minimum sentencing established by Ballot Measures 11 and 57," the Oregon State Sheriffs Association and Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police, said in their testimony to the Legislature's  Public Safety committee.  

" These mandatory minimum sentences have worked exactly as they were intended: they put the most dangerous offenders behind bars for an appropriately long period of time."

Rep. Wally Hicks, R-Grants Pass who sits on the committee has said he won't support the proposals and doesn't know any Republicans who will. And some Democrats too balk at voting for changes to Measure 11.  

Corrections leaders, victims' advocates, children's advocates and judges have supported the reforms, along with former Gresham police chief Carla Piluso.

They point out that inmates classified as "violent offenders" include people who may have been part of a violent offense but did not themselves act violently, as well as people who pretended to have weapons or had fake weapons.

"I recall a young man who pulled a very stupid prank and robbed a Gresham pizza parlor with a toy gun," Piluso said in her testimony to the committee.

"It was undoubtedly a terrifying situation for the people involved. This young man had no other contact with police and was fundamentally a good kid. He was sent to prison under Measure 11. Did he need to be held accountable for his actions? Yes he did. However, I think with more judicial discretion a better sentence could have been handed down."

The measure 11 reforms would have needed 20 votes in the Senate and 40 votes in the House.

"It's a very high bar and it's difficult under any circumstances to get that number of legislators on board," said Rogers. "Of all the reforms, the District Attorneys are opposed to, they fight the Measure 11 reforms most."

Rogers said that even without the Measure 11 reforms a bill that includes the other reforms would move the state significantly toward prevention, drug and mental health treatment and re-entry programs that help people succeed when they are released.

"I think there is still a lot of value in the reforms," he said. "But we can't assume it will move forward. We need to remind the governor and our legislative leadership that this has been two years in the making and the costs of doing nothing are huge."

For ReformAgainst Reform
"I want to tell you about one of my clients who I believe should have had his case handled  in the juvenile court system. My client, who I will just call J was 15 when he was arrested for Second Degree Robbery. He was accused of taking another kid's cell phone while a friend punched the kid.
Between the two of them, and because they were together, their behavior allegedly met the elements of Second Degree Robbery.
I met J. the next day at his first court appearance. He was in custody. He asked me if he was going to get to go home to his grandmother. I had to ask this 15 year-old in response if he could come up with $250,000 bail.
He asked me how much his punishment could be. When I told him 70 months, he started crying.
He had no idea that what he did could result in a nearly six-year sentence. J. had a good case to take to trial, but the prosecutor offered him probation if he would plea to robbery in the third degree in adult court. Risking a 70 month sentence was too much for him, but by the time he was 16, he was a convicted felon with an adult record."

Thad Betz, a staff attorney at Metropolitan Public Defenders
"I have followed the 2012 Public Safety Commission proceedings this year with a growing sense of concern. I hear attitudes and proposals that are reminiscent of the 1960's, 1970's and 1980's. Among other points of concern I have heard:
•Minimizing the success of Oregon's "tough-on-crime" criminal justice policies
•Exaggerating Oregon's reliance on incarceration (e.g., grudging and belated acknowledgment of the fact that roughly three-quarters of Oregon convicted felons receive non-prison sentences)
•A pronounced skew in the presentation and analysis of criminal justice statistics (not surprising since the organization you appointed to run this aspect of the commission has a clear agenda)
•An obsession with recidivism as a measure of public safety and a minimization of crime rates which do not support the official narrative (note though that recidivism is also down post-Measure 11)
•An absence of the concept of deterrence and its importance in maintaining a safe society"

Howard Rodstein, policy analyst with Crime Victims United

"I believe some of these offenders emerge from their Ballot Measure 11 sentence more dangerous, more likely to reoffend. I am also concerned that the mandatory nature of these sentences does not respect the interests of victims and their right to have meaningful input into the sentencing decision.
Particularly with respect to Sex Abuse I, the victim not infrequently is a child with a relationship with the offender who wants the defendant to get treatment rather than being imprisoned.
As a prosecutor handling these cases pre-BM11, I was able to assure victims their views mattered and to take into account if the offender appeared to be low risk to reoffend that they could be placed on an extended probation requiring them to succeed in treatment and to pay for treatment for the victim.
In light of these concerns, I support removing Sex Abuse I, Robb II, and Assault II from the mandatory sentencing provisions of BM11."

Keith Meisenheimer,retired Multnomah County Circuit Court judge.
Oregonians have made public safety a top priority and they want it to remain a top priority. Legislators should turn their attention to other ways to reduce spending on prisons such as stricter, rigorously-evaluated community corrections programs that address the over 2000 probationers and parolees each year who are revoked to prison because they have committed new crimes or violated conditions of supervision.They accounted for 46 percent of prison admissions in 2011.The legislature also needs to address the cost per day for prisoners, which is one of the highest in the country.  Reducing sentences will undermine accountability and create new crime victims.

Steve Doell, President of Crime Victims United of Oregon

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