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Lawmakers take second look at Oregon’s tough sentencing law April 29, 2007

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With Democrats now in charge of the Legislature, lawmakers may try to soften a 1994 get-tough-on-crime law in a way that would allow the early release of juvenile offenders charged with murder, kidnapping and other serious crimes.

The proposal is drawing flak from crime victim advocates and Oregon’s district attorneys, who say voters meant it when they adopted Measure 11 in 1994.

But some legislators and advocacy groups say they think the public is ready for a second look at whether the law is cost-effective and the best way to rehabilitate young offenders.

Measure 11 requires judges to sentence people convicted of serious crimes, including young offenders, to fixed prison terms with no possibility of parole or probation.

The House and Senate judiciary committees recently conducted public hearings on measures to revise sentencing procedures for 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds who commit the most serious crimes such as murder, assault, robbery or kidnapping.

The House measure would give those youths a chance to go before a judge for a “second look” after they have served half of their sentences. Judges could grant youths release to serve the remainder of their sentences under post-prison supervision if it can be proved that they have made significant progress while incarcerated.

READ THE ENTIRE STORY HERE: http://www.kgw.com/sharedcontent/APStories/stories/D8OPQUJ84.html


Host a Screening Party for The Trials of Darryl Hunt April 27, 2007

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An important documentary and inspirational story following the 20-year aftermath of a wrongful conviction in North Carolina premiered on HBO Thursday and airs through May 2. The Trials of Darryl Hunt details many flaws in our criminal justice system and presents a unique opportunity to discuss actions we all can take to reform our broken system.

Help spread the word about this film — and criminal justice reform — by hosting your own screening party! The Justice Project has created a resource center with background information on Darryl’s case, topics for post-screening discussions and suggestions for helping advance criminal justice reform.

Whether you are watching the film on your own, or hosting a screening party with friends, visit our website to learn more about Darryl’s case and actions you can take to help increase fairness and accuracy in our criminal justice system.


House Bill 2880 April 25, 2007

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Introduced ( html | pdf )

HB 2880 By Representative LIM — Relating to conditional release; providing for criminal sentence reduction that requires approval by a two-thirds majority.
02/27 (H) First reading. Referred to Speaker’s desk.
03/05 (H) Referred to Judiciary with subsequent referral to Ways and Means.

Prison costs shackling Oregon April 23, 2007

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Oregon is on the verge of a milestone: In the next two years, the state will spend tens of millions more tax money to lock up prison inmates than it does to educate students at community colleges and state universities.

The trend results from more than a decade of explosive prison growth largely fueled by Measure 11, the 1994 ballot initiative that mandated lengthy sentences for violent crimes. Since then, the number of inmates has nearly doubled and spending on prisons has nearly tripled.

As legislators and the governor debate how much money to spend on schools and higher education, there is little discussion in Salem on spiraling prison costs.

Oregon taxpayers now spend roughly the same money to incarcerate 13,401 inmates as they do to educate 438,000 university and community college students. But spending on prisons is growing at a faster rate than education and other state services.

The Department of Corrections and Oregon Youth Authority budget is projected to grow 19 percent in the next two years, to $1.66 billion, under Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s budget — $174 million more than what Kulongoski proposes to spend on universities and colleges.

University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer has warned lawmakers of a “growing crisis in Oregon and nationally at the intersection of corrections systems and other public priorities.”

That’s because the state budget essentially is a zero-sum game. Education, human services and public safety, including the Department of Corrections, account for 93 percent of state spending. Without tax increases, money that goes to one of those isn’t available for the others.

Why do prison costs soar beyond population growth? Since June 1995 after Measure 11 took effect, the prison population has grown from 7,539 to 13,401 inmates, including 5,387 Measure 11 offenders.

To keep them locked up, the state has built three prisons and expanded five others the past decade. Another new prison — Oregon’s 14th — opens this fall. A 15th prison, probably in Medford, would open in 2012.



Second Chance Act: 108th – 110th Congress House Bill Comparison April 17, 2007

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The Second Chance Act of 2007 is designed to reduce recidivism, increase public safety, and help ensure the safe and successful return of prisoners to the community. The House bill, H.R. 1593, was reintroduced and passed by the full Judiciary Committee.

Click here (pdf) to view a chart that summarizes the major provisions of the bill and compares the legislation to the versions introduced in 2004 and 2005.

The full text of the legislation is available online at http://thomas.loc.gov.


States Consider Laws to Address Legal Obstacles to Employment for People Released from Prisons and Jails

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Providing employment opportunities to individuals upon release from prison or jail is a critical step to facilitating their successful return to the community. According to a five-year study conducted by the United States Probation and Pretrial Services System and published in 2007, people convicted of federal offenses who are employed are more likely to complete their term of community supervision without revocation for technical violations or new criminal conduct. The study found that the conditional release of individuals under community supervision was seven times more likely to get revoked if they were unemployed at the start and end of supervision.

Despite these findings, a wide range of legal and logistical obstacles continue to affect the ability of people released from prison or jail to find and maintain employment. Several states have recently introduced legislation to address some of these barriers. Two states have introduced legislation that facilitates expungement of criminal records in certain cases:

Other states also introduced legislation relating to expunging and sealing of criminal records this year:

The Sentencing Project has released a new resource, Relief from the Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Conviction: A State-by-State Resource Guide, which offers a comprehensive survey of laws and practices relating to obtaining relief from penalties that accompany a criminal conviction in each state. The resource includes a state-by-state breakdown of judicial expungement, sealing, and set-aside laws.

For more information on removing barriers to employment for people released from prisons and jails, click here.


Prison early release challenged April 16, 2007

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Repeat property offenders would stay in prison longer under changes presented to lawmakers, but those stays would be shortened if inmates complete drug treatment and community leave.

Lawmakers also are considering limits to the alternative incarceration program, which, critics say, is resulting in greater reductions in prison time for some inmates than the Legislature intended.

The package of changes may win support from two advocacy groups usually on opposite sides — Crime Victims United, and the Partnership for Safety and Justice — although representatives of both told the House Judiciary Committee last week they still have reservations and want to see more changes.

State Rep. Kim Thatcher called attention to the program a couple of months ago by sponsoring a series of bills to limit it.

“It’s probably come to the most realistic point that I can expect from this Legislature,” said Thatcher, a Republican from Keizer. “It’s not everything I want, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

The changes negotiated by the governor’s staff, the Oregon Department of Corrections, district attorneys and others would impose some limits similar to those Thatcher proposed.

Inmates who fail the program would be ineligible for re-entry. Sex offenders and some inmates whose crimes resulted in death or serious physical injury also would be ineligible.

Offenders would have to serve at least 12 months of the term imposed, and have no more than 24 months remaining on that term.

These and other changes would be coupled with extending sentences for those who commit multiple property crimes. Some terms would be lengthened from 13 to 18 months, and for first-degree burglary and aggravated theft, from 19 to 27 months.

“I think this compromise is a very delicate balance,” said John Foote, the Clackamas County district attorney, who sat on the group that negotiated it. “If you pick off pieces, it will fall apart.”

The package’s price tag has not been estimated, but longer prison stays and more drug treatment are likely to cost millions.

“But we think the money should follow the policy,” said Max Williams, director of the Department of Corrections.

Four years ago, the Legislature authorized a program aimed at reducing the return rate of offenders to prisons. The law presumed that judges’ sentencing orders allow inmates to take part in the program unless a judge forbids it in open court.

Participating prisons are the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, the Summit boot camp in North Bend, and the Powder River Correctional Facility in Baker City. The boot camp, the state’s first alternative program, actually began operation in 1994.

Inmates must complete 180 days of intensive treatment for alcohol and drug abuse in secure custody, and 90 days of transitional leave in the community, before they qualify for sentence reductions and early release. The average reduction is 12 to 13 months.

If inmates fail either phase, they remain in prison or are returned to prison from transitional leave.

Preliminary numbers released by the state last summer pegged the completion rate at just under 42 percent of the 2,700 inmates enrolled, although another 6 percent were still on leave at the time.

Critics raised questions about high-profile offenders, some of whom were not only released earlier than their sentences called for but committed new crimes. One was Juan Lara, a former Eugene police officer who was sentenced in 2004 to 68 months in prison in connection with coercing two women to provide sexual favors while on duty. He served 27 months.

“In some rare instances, individuals were getting probably a greater reduction in sentences than anybody envisioned,” said Williams, who was the House Judiciary Committee chairman when the 2003 Legislature approved the program.

“There also were certain crimes that made sense for us to prohibit some inmates from participating in this program, and we agreed.”

Inmates convicted under Measure 11, which voters approved in 1994 to impose mandatory minimum sentences for 21 violent crimes, are ineligible for the program. But non-Measure 11 felons make up about 70 percent of Oregon’s 13,000 inmates.

“If we are not preparing them for re-entry into society, we are doing a disservice to the people,” said Joseph O’Leary, Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s senior policy adviser for public safety.

Crime Victims United, which takes a hard line against crime, said it is skeptical of the program.

“These amendments, though not exactly what we desired, represent a step in the right direction,” said Howard Rodstein, a policy adviser for the group. “That’s why we are supporting them.”

Thatcher said she is seeking an amendment to provide for performance measures and an independent audit.

The Partnership for Safety and Justice supports a six-month extension of stays for repeat property offenders. But it also said more emphasis must go to programs that reduce the return rate of offenders.

Geoff Sugerman, who spoke for the group, said less than 1 percent of the prisons’ two-year, $1.1-billion budget is spent on those programs, compared with more than 10 percent on debt service for prisons already built.

“Today, over half of the people in the corrections system do not receive needed and recommended drug treatment, cognitive behavior training, or education, all vital components for them to succeed when they are released,” he said.

“By increasing the number of treatment beds under this proposal, we begin to take the first steps back to a more balanced criminal-justice system.”


Massachusetts new Governor looking at sentencing reform April 15, 2007

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It is refreshing to see new officials bringing a healthy new perspective to sentencing issues. According to this Boston Globe article, that’s what’s happening in Massachusetts:
Governor Deval Patrick has launched a comprehensive review of the state’s mandatory sentencing laws, an effort endorsed by the attorney general and the chief justice of the state trial courts to help stop the “revolving door” in the state’s prison system. “People come out more dangerous than when they went in,” Patrick told the Globe last week, explaining his administration’s focus on fundamentally changing the philosophy of the criminal justice system.
Administration officials say that the mandatory minimum sentences, which eliminate judges’ discretion in certain cases, drive up the cost of corrections and make it less likely that prisoners will participate in programs that could help them reenter society when they are released. Because those prisoners cannot get out early for good behavior, critics say, they have little incentive to participate in programs while in prison. And they are barred by law from enrolling in work release, rehabilitation, or furlough programs outside their institution, according to Mary Elizabeth Heffernan, an undersecretary for public safety. Once they wrap up their sentence, she added, they are sent back into society unsupervised.
The effort to revamp these laws is part of a larger administration policy aimed at preparing criminals for life after prison, including changes to a program that allows employers to review the criminal records of potential employees. Without a comprehensive plan to reintegrate the thousands of criminals who get out of Massachusetts prisons each year, Heffernan said, many will return to crime.
Administration statistics indicate that nearly half commit a crime during their first year after release. “The concept of the revolving door — the governor and the secretary want to look at how we stop that,” Heffernan said, referring to Public Safety Secretary Kevin Burke. “People are moving away from the breaking-rocks portion of the program. This administration is going to take a more thoughtful and appropriate look at what works and what doesn’t.”

Fixing Measure 11 April 14, 2007

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Among the most glaring flaws of Measure 11, the mandatory sentencing law approved by voters in 1994, is its requirement that juveniles as young as 15 be automatically sent to adult court when they’re accused of certain felonies.

There’s no need for such punitive inflexibility in dealing with juvenile offenders. The critical, life-changing decision of whether to try and sentence youths as adults should be made by Oregon judges, not by a one-size-fits-all provision incapable of assessing a young person’s potential for rehabilitation and reform.

The Oregon Legislature is considering two proposals to reform how juvenile offenders are sentenced. Both bills apply only to 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds who commit Measure 11 crimes such as assault or robbery.

Senate Bill 1014 would change the requirement that youths charged with Measure 11 crimes be automatically tried as adults. Young offenders would receive pre-trial hearings in adult court in which judges would determine whether juvenile or adult court best provides accountability, public safety and rehabilitation.

House Bill 2904 would give youths a chance to go before a judge for a “second look” after they have served half of a Measure 11 sentence. Judges would be given the authority to grant youths conditional release to serve the remainder of their sentences under post-prison supervision if it can be proved that they have made significant progress.

Both bills recognize what Measure 11 did not: There are fundamental differences juvenile and adult offenders. Research has shown that adolescents’ brains do not develop fully until the age of 19 or 20. As any parent of teens can attest, that applies in particular to the parts of the brain that control judgment, impulse actions, and moral and ethical reasoning – in other words, the parts of the brain that at age 15 might decide, “I want to hold up that mini-mart” but at 20 might conclude, “That’s a really stupid and wrong thing to do, and I don’t want to spend the next decade in prison.”

Research and common sense also leave no doubt that young offenders who remain in juvenile justice systems are less likely to commit future crimes than their peers who are handed over to adult systems.

Both bills are part of a statewide Justice for Youth Campaign headed by the Partnership for Safety and Justice, a criminal justice advocacy group. The bills have been endorsed by organizations ranging from Stand for Children to the Oregon Public Health Association.

Since it was approved by two-thirds of Oregon voters in 1994, Measure 11 has proven both a blessing and a curse. It has put dangerous offenders behind bars with longer sentences, and crime rates have steadily declined since it went into effect. Yet the law has stripped judges of their ability to exercise discretion, and it has forced a massive investment in prison construction – at the expense of other state programs.

Efforts to overturn Measure 11 have gone nowhere – voters defeated a repeal by a nearly 3-to-1 ratio in 2000. For better or worse, it appears destined to remain the dominant feature of Oregon’s justice system.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. A good place to start is changing the way the state’s criminal justice system deals with youth who commit crimes.


Prisons, Policing, and Prevention: What’s Effective in Reducing Crime? April 13, 2007

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Reports of a nationwide increase in violent crime—the largest in 15 years—may soon have lawmakers calling for tougher measures to protect the public. But putting more people in prison may not be the best way to cut crime rates. According to a new Vera report, Reconsidering Incarceration: New Directions for Reducing Crime, further increases in incarceration are subject to diminishing returns in effectiveness and come at substantial cost to taxpayers.

What, then, should policymakers take into account when developing public safety strategies? Join us as the following speakers offer their insights and perspectives—from policing, corrections, prevention, and research—on the approaches and investments that can help control crime without undue reliance on incarceration.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Refreshments will be provided. Program begins at 7:00 p.m.

Herb Sturz-Burke Marshall Conference Center

Vera Institute of Justice
233 Broadway, 12th Floor
New York, NY 10279

Space is limited, so please RSVP to events@vera.org.

Michael P. Jacobson
Director, Vera Institute of Justice
Former Commissioner of New York City’s Departments of Correction and Probation

Garry F. McCarthy
Police Director, Newark, NJ

Lawrence F. Murray (invited)
National Director of CASASTART,
National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University

Don Stemen
Author, Reconsidering Incarceration,
Vera Institute of Justice