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Council of State Governments Justice Center Launches Justice Reinvestment Website May 30, 2007

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The Council of State Governments Justice Center recently unveiled a new resource for policymakers: a website about its Justice Reinvestment Initiative. Through its Justice Reinvestment Initiative, the Justice Center provides intensive technical assistance to policymakers interested in reducing their state’s spending on corrections, increasing public safety, and improving conditions in the neighborhoods to which most people released from prison return.

The new website explains how justice reinvestment works. It also provides reports, policy briefs, and maps that the Justice Center has developed as part of its technical assistance to officials in states where bipartisan groups of policymakers are pursuing a justice reinvestment strategy, including Texas, Kansas, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Nevada, and Arizona. These materials summarize the projected growth of the states’ prison populations, identify factors driving that growth, and provide maps illustrating how state expenditures overlap and may be concentrated in a handful of neighborhoods.

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative receives funding support through the Public Safety Performance Project, an operating project of the Pew Charitable Trusts; the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA); and the Open Society Institute.


Kansas Governor Signs Bipartisan Legislation

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On May 22, 2007, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, joined by Senator John Vratil, Representative Mike O’Neal, Representative Pat Colloton, and Senator Greta Goodwin, held a bill signing ceremony for Senate Bill 14, “An Act Concerning the Department of Corrections.”

The bill creates a performance-based grant program for community corrections programs to design local strategies to reduce parole and probation revocations and establishes a 60-day earned program credit for participants who successfully complete educational, vocational, and treatment programs while incarcerated. To implement SB14, the legislature appropriated $4.4 million for the community corrections grant program. Governor Sebelius also included $2.4 million in the state’s budget to fund the expansion of programs for people in prison and on parole supervision, including behavioral health care programs.

“Kansas is dedicated to smart and tough criminal justice policy,” said Governor Sebelius. “By holding individuals who committed less-serious crimes accountable for completing treatment and vocational programs, we will ensure we have space in our prisons to keep violent offenders behind bars.”

According to an analysis completed by the Kansas Department of Corrections, most people are released from prison without completing programs that would reduce their risk to public safety. Seventy-two percent of people in need of vocational education and 52 percent of people in need of substance abuse treatment did not participate in relevant programs prior to their release.

The new initiatives that the law establishes resulted in part from a bipartisan Joint Task Force on Comprehensive Corrections established by House Speaker Melvin Neufeld and Senate President Stephen Morris. Task Force members worked closely with state officials and national experts from the Council of State Governments Justice Center in pursuing a justice reinvestment strategy to help manage the growth of the prison population, save the state money, and increase public safety.

According to a 2006 report by the Kansas Sentencing Commission, the prison population was projected to increase by 26 percent over the next decade. By implementing SB14, the state is expected to avert adding 1,292 beds and save $80.2 million over the next five years, although the actual savings will depend on when the state decides to build additional correctional facilities.

To learn more about the justice reinvestment strategy and the technical assistance that the Council of State Governments Justice Center is providing to Kansas and other states, please visit http://www.justicereinvestment.org or contact Crystal Garland.


Defender dilemma May 29, 2007

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A hard-working but lowly paid resident of Oregon who is accused of a crime may have a hard time getting a competent attorney.

If that person qualifies for food stamps, he would likely qualify for a court-appointed attorney. But for anyone with even a slightly higher income, the state uses a Privately Hired Attorney Fee Schedule to determine if a defendant qualifies for court-appointed counsel; that schedule varies widely from county to county and hasn’t been updated since 1991.

For example, the state estimates that a person accused of aggravated murder in Benton County would need $25,000 to hire an attorney. The estimate is the same in most other counties in the state, including Multnomah.

If the state determines the defendant can afford $25,000, he would be denied a court-

appointed attorney.

But some private attorneys scoff at that figure as representative of what counsel would actually cost.

“I can’t imagine it would be less than $100,000,” said Wayne Mackeson of Portland.

The fee schedule arose from research done 16 years ago, according to Kathryn Aylward, director of the Contract & Business Services Division in the Oregon Office of Public Defense Services.

“We took a survey of local attorneys and asked, ‘What would you charge for these kinds of cases?’” Aylward said.

They got a range of fees and settled on 25 percent higher than the lowest fee given for each type of case to create the fee schedule.

For a manslaughter case, the state estimates it would cost $5,000 to hire a private attorney in Benton County. Ensor said he had just defended a client in such a case.

“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “Most local attorneys aren’t going to accept a manslaughter case without a $10,000 retainer.”

And to defend the whole case would likely cost at least $20,000, he said. If the case went to trial it would cost much more because of the need to hire expert witnesses.

The U.S. Constitution doesn’t guarantee the right to the best-available defense, Ensor said, only the right to a competent defense.



Prosecutor’s mouth and might earn him admirers and animosity

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Halfway through the book reading, the prosecutor decided that he had heard enough; the author was clearly wrong. Even though he was in a church, not a courtroom, and the listeners around him made up an audience, not a jury, Norm Frink rose to object.

Loudly announcing that he was a deputy district attorney, Frink poured out a torrent of accusations: “The distortions you are peddling are not true! . . . These people need to know the truth!”

In the audience that May 2006 night at the First Unitarian Church, Portland lawyer Ronald Atwood watched Frink, appalled at such behavior from a public official. Three days later, Atwood wrote to Frink’s boss, District Attorney Michael Schrunk.

“When one individual attempts to shout down another with accusations rather than an exchange of ideas, the conduct is thuggish,” Atwood’s letter said. “Mr. Frink was embarrassing, rude and acted as a bully.”

Those words and many others like them have been applied for decades to Norman William Frink Jr., a relentless, aggressive, throw-away-the-key career prosecutor who tells people exactly what he thinks — usually in excruciating detail — and who plays not just to win but to force opponents to admit defeat.

For 30 years, in courtrooms, in the Legislature, before the news media and among friends, Frink, 54, has employed intellect, ambition and force of personality to mold Oregon’s criminal laws to his world view. Among his victories was the 1994 passage of mandatory minimum prison sentences for violent criminals.

With the club of Ballot Measure 11 in hand, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Frink works as Schrunk’s expediter and enforcer, personally approving a large majority of the major plea agreements in Multnomah County’s 1914 courthouse, the state’s busiest.

Frink sees himself as simply a contrarian who leans right politically but who reads and thinks more than most people in lefty Portland — and who isn’t afraid to point that out.

“A lot of people here never, ever have certain viewpoints they may have challenged. And they never talk to anybody who they think has got any brains who thinks differently than they do,” Frink says. “It’s always healthy to have someone sometimes suggest that perhaps there’s an alternate viewpoint that somebody who doesn’t drool all the time might have.”

Schrunk has heard all the complaints about his senior deputy, and he sighs with feigned exhaustion. Frink is no diplomat, Schrunk acknowledges. But diplomats can’t process nearly 6,500 felonies a year.



Tennessee Considers Study Commission May 25, 2007

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Tennessee is currently considering a bill to create special committee to study the state’s death penalty system. House Bill 2162 (pdf) was unanimously approved by the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month, and a Senate version of the bill (SB 1911) is also being considered.

Acknowledging that “new methods and technologies for determining guilt or innocence have shed new light on the causes of wrongful convictions,” the Committee to Study the Administration of the Death Penalty would thoroughly review and make recommendations on all aspects of Tennessee’s death penalty system, including the risk of innocent people being executed. In addition, the committee would be charged with reviewing the state’s indigent defense system to ensure “effective defense counsel in all stages of litigation in capital cases” using the ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Capital Cases (pdf) as a benchmark.

The committee created by this bill would consist of 16 members appointed by various government leaders, lawyer associations, and criminal justice organizations, including The Tennessee Justice Project – an independent organization formed by The Justice Project in 2004. The committee would have two years to study the state’s death penalty system and report its findings to the governor and the General Assembly.


House Republicans Propose Longer Sentences Under Measure 11

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SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon House this week rejected a vote to increase Measure 11 sentencing for repeat property crimes, including burglary, car theft and identify theft.

Rep. Gene Whisnant (R-Sunriver) led a House Republican effort to pull HB 3429 out of the House Judiciary Committee, where Democrats have held the bill without a hearing since it was introduced March 20.

Rep. Whisnant urged the House to debate HB 3429, arguing the bill is an important tool for combating methamphetamine and meth-related crime.

“Time is running out this session to expand our fight against methamphetamine,” Rep. Whisnant said. “According to the Portland Police Bureau, meth addicts commit 85 percent of property crime in Oregon. This problem won’t end when we adjourn next month.”

HB 3429 requires mandatory minimum sentences of up to 48 months for repeat property crime convictions. Criminals who’ve been previously convicted of first-degree aggravated theft and/or first-degree burglary would face at least 24 months in prison.



Prison vs. probation May 23, 2007

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Different things work on different offenders. Programs work best for some, prison for others. Some offenders commit more crime because we put them in prison; some do so because we do not.

Sentencing choices based on ideology or philosophy rather than data result in cruelty to victims and to offenders.
Sentencing guidelines were not designed for public safety. By one measure, they over-predict risk about one-third of the time and under-predict risk about one-third of the time. Getting sentencing right one time out of three is irresponsible and undermines programs that do work, both in and out of prison.

Senate Bill 276 would require judges to consider a validated risk assessment when choosing between probation and prison in 11 of the guideline’s 99 grid blocks. In three years’ study, we’d learn the results in terms of crime reduction.

SB276 is a crucial first step toward more effective sentencing.

MICHAEL MARCUS Circuit judge, Multnomah County Southwest Portland


Second Chance Act suddenly stalls May 21, 2007

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We need you to write your U.S. Representative today!

H.R. 1593, the Second Chance Act, is a bill which would provide funds for programs that help formerly incarcerated people reenter society. Unfortunately, H.R. 1593 was not voted on by the House of Representatives on May 15th as scheduled. Instead, the bill was pulled off the floor at the last minute by Democratic leaders who were concerned there were not enough votes to ensure its passage. Two-thirds of the House of Representatives (290 Representatives) must vote in favor of this bill to pass it. The Second Chance Act currently has 92 bipartisan co-sponsors.

We need your continued support of the Second Chance Act

Here’s some background – Across the country, over 2.2 million people are in prisons and jails, and every year nearly 650,000 people a year are being released from state and federal prisons. In Oregon, thousands of people are being released from prison each year. Without adequate support, too many people wind up back in prison. If passed, the federal Second Chance Act can help turn that around. The federal Second Chance Act is a combination of policy changes and funding meant to improve the rough transition from prison to the community. The Second Chance Act establishes a National Re-entry Resource Center and allocates millions in grants to state and local governments for re-entry. These grants — for housing, addiction treatment, and mentoring programs — can directly address the biggest barriers to successful re-entry for thousands of people leaving prison and returning home to Oregon communities.

Please write your U.S. Representative and let him or her know that you support the Second Chance Act.


Re-entry Partnership May 19, 2007

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Gary was getting out after 28 years- over half his life- behind bards. He had not relatives, no friends, no job and nowhere to live. From his prison counselor’s office he called the DOC Re-entry Chaplain. Three phone calls later Gary had housing, job training and a community of supporter ready to receive him upon release.

How did this happen? It happened because of Home for Good in Oregon: A Corrections, Community and Faith-Based Re-entry Partnership (HGO). HGO is a statewide network of community and faith-based individuals and organizations committed to “building strong communities for the successful reintegration of offenders.”

We know from research that having non-criminal or pro-social friends and associates and non-criminal or pro-social attitudes, values and beliefs are two of the most important factors that help offenders to successfully reintegrate upon their release. Based on this research HGO provides releasing offenders with opportunities to develop a pro-social support system for their release as well as a strong set of pro-social attitudes, beliefs and values. Recently the American Correctional Chaplains Association gave its 2005 annual national award for religious program excellence to Oregon’s HGO re-entry partnership.

HGO has created a model re-entry program that is structured on three organizational and programmatic building blocks that are described below. In each of these three blocks there are opportunities for volunteers to help reduce Oregon’s rate of recidivism and make Oregon’s communities both safer and more compassionate.

TO READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE, PLEASE CLICK HERE: http://www.oregon.gov/DOC/TRANS/religious_services/rs_hgo_program.shtml

Home for Good in Oregon

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HGO Vision Statement

That men and women exiting prison can sustain expectations of welcome and support from state, faith and community partners as they transition back to their families and communities

HGO Mission Statement

Utilize strategic partnerships between state, faith and community based organization to build a seamless system of support, guidance, training and resources that promotes the successful restoration of ex-offenders to their families and communities.

Link to Home for Good training material web page.