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Competing crime measures force Oregon voters to think tactically October 17, 2008

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

Here’s an article from the Oregonian.

Joe Smith plans to hold his nose and vote for Measure 57, which increases prison sentences for career burglars, identity thieves and drug dealers and offers probation and drug treatment to first-time offenders.

Smith, a member of the civics-minded City Club of Portland, doesn’t buy the argument that Oregon needs to build more prisons for drug dealers and property criminals when reported property crime is at a 40-year low in Oregon.

But he says voting for 57 is the best way to defeat the far harsher Measure 61, which would impose mandatory minimum prison sentences for first time non-violent offenders and cost the state twice as much money.

So why not vote “no” on both?

Because 57 and 61 are uniquely intertwined: if both pass, the one with more votes wins.

And Smith says both will pass.

“If a poll came out in the next five days showing both going down, this (voter) would vote against both of them,” Smith said. “But everybody’s telling me it’s inevitable.”

Measure 57 is attracting support from a lot of groups that usually don’t endorse prison-building but oppose the more costly Measure 61, from the United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley to Stand for Children to the Oregon Consumer League. But 57 also has plenty of enthusiastic supporters, including police associations and most of the state’s elected district attorneys.

They argue that Measure 57 strikes a balance between punishment and prevention at a reasonable cost.

“It has the opportunity to get treatment,” said Klamath County District Attorney Ed Caleb. “But it hopefully acts as some sort of deterrent.”

Measure 61 supporters also face the dilemma of trying to get voters to split their vote.

Duane Fletchall, a retired Marion County Sheriff’s sergeant, said voters who want to crack down on property crime could end up enacting the weaker alternative if they pick both.

“61 — they’re going to serve some time,” Fletchall said. “57 — they’re looking at probation and treatment.”

Dueling measures are unusual. Other issues on the November ballot — from teacher pay to bilingual education — offer a simple yes-or-no choice.

The calculation with 57 and 61 is more complicated, thanks to the Oregon Legislature.

Last year, it became clear that Measure 61, sponsored by former Republican lawmaker Kevin Mannix, had enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

An analysis by state officials determined that Measure 61 would likely increase the state’s nearly 13,700 prison population by at least 30 percent and cost $522 million to $797 million in the first five years. That’s money that would otherwise go to education, health care and other programs.

Polling also suggested it would take a $5 million to $10 million campaign to defeat Measure 61.

Democrats, a handful of Republicans, prosecutors and other interest groups negotiated an alternative that would toughen sentences for burglary, theft and drug dealing, but cost less.

Measure 57, which would cost an estimated $411 million in the first five years, also has money for drug treatment.

The Legislature in February approved 57, including the provision that the measure with the most votes wins.

That forced the campaigns to urge Oregonians to vote “yes” and “no.”

The Oregon Anti-Crime Alliance, led by Mannix and funded by businessman Loren Parks, has raised $677,300 in opposition to 57 and in support of 61 and 62, which would divert 15 percent of lottery proceeds from schools and services to law enforcement.

Defend Oregon — a coalition led by public employee unions — has raised $6.57 million in support of 57 and in opposition to 61, 62 and five other measures.

Not everyone plans to split their votes.

Linn County District Attorney Jason Carlile said he will be happy if either measure wins.

“The only bad choice here is neither one passes,” Carlile said.

Charles Mitchell, a Portland City Club member, said he will vote against both measures because the United States locks up a higher percentage of its citizens than any country. Oregon’s incarceration rate is close to the national average, but the state spends a larger percentage of its budget on prisons than most others.

“My feeling is both of these measures are bad,” Mitchell said. “The money that would be spent, which is significant, is better used supporting social services and education.”




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