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State weighs impact of Mannix initiative October 12, 2007

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Tough-on-crime extremist Kevin Mannix’s new sentencing initiative for drug and property crimes would lock up between 4,000 and 6,000 lawbreakers — and drive up state costs by up to $400 million — according to new state projections released Thursday.

The estimates, drawn up and presented to the House and Senate judiciary committees, are the first attempt to measure the magnitude of Mannix’s proposal to set mandatory minimum sentences of 14 to 36 months for a host of drug and property crimes.

The initiative is considered a lock for the November 2008 ballot; Mannix already has submitted what appear to be enough signatures for it to qualify. Even if they’re not enough, the veteran initiative campaigner and former gubernatorial candidate still has nine months to gather more signatures for what’s being called Initiative 40.

Mannix, a former lawmaker who was author of Measure 11 — a similar mandatory-minimum sentencing initiative a decade ago — said the projections represented “an honest effort” to determine his measure’s potential impact on the criminal justice system and the Oregon budget.

While he did question certain assumptions, such as the number of cases that might be plea bargained, the Republican offered this advice to lawmakers: “I’d say, let’s embrace that figure,” calling it a fraction of future budget growth and an increase in state spending on par with recently stepped up appropriations to other budget areas such as education.

The projections, drawn up by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission at lawmakers’ request, estimated inmate populations would spike by 4,106 or 6,389, depending on two sets of assumptions.

The increase represents nearly one-third of the 13,477-inmate prison population. And it could necessitate a new wave of prison construction, requiring the equivalent of three more prisons on the scale of the 1,700-person capacity Junction City lockup the state plans to open in 2012.

“We aren’t going to be able to build prisons fast enough to house them,” said Sen. Vicki Walker, D-Eugene.

Looking at 2006 convictions, state analysts determined 4,939 of those would have been subject to the Initiative 40 sentences had it been in effect last year.

To illustrate how prison time would increase under the initiative, state analysts drew on the way a handful of crimes were prosecuted last year.

Among the 2,769 people convicted of identity theft, first-degree burglary and first-degree theft, 1,720 — nearly two thirds — got probation. Had Initiative 40 been on the books, all of them would have served prison time.

Craig Prins, executive director of the Criminal Justice Commission and the report’s author, said one of the biggest wild cards in putting a price tag on the latest Mannix measure is determining how prosecutors will use it.

He cited the unanticipated effect Measure 11 had on prosecutors’ use of plea bargaining with those indicted of violent crimes. Measure 11 defendants, faced with the prospect of long sentences with no chance for early release, were much more apt to avoid a trial and enter a guilty plea to a lesser charge than they were before Measure 11. In Multnomah County, for instance, this was the case 57 percent of the time for the Measure 11 crime of second-degree robbery.

If that plea bargaining pattern holds under Initiative 40, then 4,106 more beds will be needed to lock up convicts by 2012, when the initiative would be fully implemented.

But there’s a big difference between Initiative 40 and Measure 11: what Prins called an “economic incentive” of state payments for counties to lock up defendants prior to and during their trials. It’s an incentive that could persuade district attorneys to skip the plea bargaining phase and take on the costs of criminal trials, knowing their counties won’t be shackled with the costs of jailing defendants.

If that’s how Initiative 40 plays out, then the need for additional lock-up space would grow by 6,389 beds by 2012.


Joint Economic Committee Holds Hearing on the Economic Costs of the Surge in U.S. Prison Populations October 5, 2007

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On October 4, the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee held a hearing entitled “Mass Incarceration in the United States: At What Cost?” The hearing focused on the costs of maintaining a large prison system and the long-term labor market and social consequences of mass incarceration. The hearing also covered whether the increase in the prison population correlates with decreases in crime, and what alternative sentencing strategies and post-prison reentry programs have been the most successful at reducing incarceration rates in states and local communities.

Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) and Committee Vice Chair Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) ran the hearing. Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Bob Casey (D-PA) and Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA), Philip English (R-PA), and Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) were in attendance.

Witnesses included Dr. Glenn Loury, Economics and Social Sciences Professor at Brown University; Dr. Bruce Western, Director of the Inequality and Social Policy Program at Harvard University; Alphonso Albert, Executive Director of Second Chances; Michael Jacobson, Executive Director of the Vera Institute for Justice; and Pat Nolan, Vice President of Justice Fellowship, Prison Fellowship Ministries. To view the full witness list and submitted testimony, click here.

In his opening statement, Senator Webb explored the enormous economic costs of high incarceration rates and the disproportionate impact on minority communities. Witnesses all discussed the multiple challenges related to the return of incarcerated persons from prisons and jails to their communities and emphasized the importance of reentry programs to help curb the economic and social costs of imprisonment.

“Providing employment and training assistance for ex-offenders is critical to reducing barriers to employment, and it benefits families,” said Congresswoman Maloney. “That’s why I support the Second Chance Act. Putting more resources into creating economic opportunities that provide alternatives to crime would pay dividends in reducing crime and incarceration, while also strengthening families and communities.”

In his remarks, Senator Brownback also stressed the importance of community-based reentry services and substance abuse treatment for people returning from prisons and jails. He spoke in support of the Second Chance Act and expressed his desire to see the bill enacted this year.

“We have an incredible opportunity to greatly improve the way in which this nation’s prison systems operate,” said Senator Brownback. “The Second Chance Act, which is now pending before Congress will certainly bring much-needed change to the American criminal justice system.”

Senator Webb and Representative Scott also expressed their support of the Second Chance Act.