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Legislature’s test session comes to an end February 29, 2008

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Oregon lawmakers wrapped up a historic test drive of annual sessions Friday night by approving most of the budget and policy priorities laid out beforehand by leaders of both parties.

The 19-day session concluded at 9:40 p.m. after lawmakers ran through a stack of bills, including additional spending on human services, state police and land use and a ballot alternative to mandatory minimum prison sentences for property and drug offenders.

“This session addressed so many issues that were timely, and in the process, did some good things in other areas,” said House Speaker Jeff Merkley, D-Portland. “It demonstrates that an annual session can work well and be done in a timely manner.”

Lawmakers met for 172 days in the 2007 session.

Oregon is one of six states in which lawmakers still meet in regular session every other year.

“You will decide in your own way and in your own time what you tell the world about what we have done or not done here,” said Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, an architect of what he called a “supplemental” session. “But one thing is for sure: We have made special history in Oregon, my Oregon.”

Sen. Fred Girod, R-Lyons, said he still was not convinced more frequent meetings are a good idea.

“A couple of positive bills came out,” said Girod, who moved over from the House last month. “Around-the-clock patrols by the state police do not take effect until the last month of the budget cycle, and we did get funding for a land-use review and changes in water policy.”

A gloomier-than-expected economic forecast Feb. 8 dampened spending expectations.

“But given those numbers, I think we did quite well,” said Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, a budget committee member who favors annual sessions.

The package of budget bills cleared both chambers with virtually no debate, except for a proposed University of Oregon basketball arena to be built with $200 million in state-backed bonds. It was approved.

Both chambers cleared an alternative to a pending anti-crime ballot initiative on votes of 23-7 in the Senate and 54-2 in the House.

Senate Bill 1087, which voters will decide Nov. 4, focuses on longer prison sentences for large-quantity drug dealers and repeat property offenders. It also will tie in drug treatment for inmates.

It would compete with an initiative by former state Rep. Kevin Mannix of Salem, who already has submitted about 150,000 signatures, 83,000 of which are required to qualify it for the Nov. 4 ballot. Mannix’s initiative would impose minimum prison sentences for first-time property and drug offenders.

“We need to take care of repeat property offenders,” said Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, the floor manager for the alternative. “But locking them up and then turning them loose is not going to break the cycle of addiction.”

If voters approve both, the measure with the greater number of votes will prevail.

Both will cost money, but the proposed alternative would cost less.

It would add a projected 1,400 inmates and $62 million to the Department of Corrections budget in 2009-11, plus $40 million for drug treatment. The cost would increase again in 2011-13.

Mannix’s initiative, according to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, would add 4,000 to 6,000 inmates and cost between $256 million and $400 million during the 2009-11 cycle.

The prison system now tops 13,000 inmates. That’s nearly double the population of early 1995, when minimum sentences for violent crimes took effect under 1994’s Measure 11, of which Mannix was the chief sponsor.

Girod said lawmakers had only one reason to consider the bill.

“It’s to torpedo the Mannix initiative,” he said.

A Republican attempt to substitute Mannix’s initiative for SB 1087 failed on a party-line vote, with only Sen. Avel Gordly, I-Portland, joining the 11 Republicans.

The alternative then passed the Senate, 23-7, with votes from four Republicans, including Winters. Republican Reps. Brian Boquist of Dallas and Kim Thatcher of Keizer were the lone dissenters in the House.

“We recognize the need for treatment of methamphetamine addiction,” Winters said afterward. “We cannot continue to recycle people in the system and build more prisons and jails.”

She said the bill dovetails with anti-meth efforts by a Marion County task force of which she is co-leader.


Record-high ratio of Americans in prison February 28, 2008

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For the first time in U.S. history, more than one of every 100 adults is in jail or prison, according to a new report documenting America’s rank as the world’s No. 1 incarcerator. It urges states to curtail corrections spending by placing fewer low-risk offenders behind bars.

Using state-by-state data, the report says 2,319,258 Americans were in jail or prison at the start of 2008 — one out of every 99.1 adults. Whether per capita or in raw numbers, it’s more than any other nation.

The report, released Thursday by the Pew Center on the States, said the 50 states spent more than $49 billion on corrections last year, up from less than $11 billion 20 years earlier. The rate of increase for prison costs was six times greater than for higher education spending, the report said.

The steadily growing inmate population “is saddling cash-strapped states with soaring costs they can ill afford and failing to have a clear impact either on recidivism or overall crime,” the report said.

Susan Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States, said budget woes are pressuring many states to consider new, cost-saving corrections policies that might have been shunned in the recent past for fear of appearing soft on crime.

“We’re seeing more and more states being creative because of tight budgets,” she said in an interview. “They want to be tough on crime. They want to be a law-and-order state. But they also want to save money, and they want to be effective.”

The report cited Kansas and Texas as states that have acted decisively to slow the growth of their inmate population. They are making greater use of community supervision for low-risk offenders and employing sanctions other than reimprisonment for offenders who commit technical violations of parole and probation rules.

“The new approach, born of bipartisan leadership, is allowing the two states to ensure they have enough prison beds for violent offenders while helping less dangerous lawbreakers become productive, taxpaying citizens,” the report said.

While many state governments have shown bipartisan interest in curbing prison growth, there also are persistent calls to proceed cautiously.

“We need to be smarter,” said David Muhlhausen, a criminal justice expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation. “We’re not incarcerating all the people who commit serious crimes. But we’re also probably incarcerating people who don’t need to be.”

According to the report, the inmate population increased last year in 36 states and the federal prison system.

The largest percentage increase — 12 percent — was in Kentucky, where Gov. Steve Beshear highlighted the cost of corrections in his budget speech last month. He noted that the state’s crime rate had increased only about 3 percent in the past 30 years, while the state’s inmate population has increased by 600 percent.

The report was compiled by the Pew Center’s Public Safety Performance Project, which is working with 13 states on developing programs to divert offenders from prison without jeopardizing public safety.

“Getting tough on criminals has gotten tough on taxpayers,” said the project’s director, Adam Gelb.

According to the report, the average annual cost per prisoner was $23,876, with Rhode Island spending the most ($44,860) and Louisiana the least ($13,009). It said California — which faces a $16 billion budget shortfall — spent $8.8 billion on corrections last year, while Texas, which has slightly more inmates, was a distant second with spending of $3.3 billion.

On average, states spend 6.8 percent of their general fund dollars on corrections, the report said. Oregon had the highest spending rate, at 10.9 percent; Alabama the lowest at 2.6 percent.

Four states — Vermont, Michigan, Oregon and Connecticut — now spend more on corrections than they do on higher education, the report said.

“These sad facts reflect a very distorted set of national priorities,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, referring to the full report. “Perhaps, if we adequately invested in our children and in education, kids who now grow up to be criminals could become productive workers and taxpayers.”

The report said prison growth and higher incarceration rates do not reflect an increase in the nation’s overall population. Instead, it said, more people are behind bars mainly because of tough sentencing measures, such as “three-strikes” laws, that result in longer prison stays.


Update: Oregon’s Opposition to New Mandatory Minimums February 26, 2008

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The fight to stop Kevin Mannix’s proposed new mandatory minimum sentences just took a step forward but also got much more complicated.

The February legislative session ended late Friday night and on the last day they referred a measure to the November ballot challenging Mannix’s property crime measure (IP 40). The legislative measure, which has yet to be given an official number for the ballot, has a superseding clause which means it cancels out IP 40 if it gets more votes.

The legislature tried to put together a smarter approach to addressing drug and property crime. They got some things right and other things quite wrong. Where the legislature went wrong was their continued need to posture as tough on crime despite the evidence about what’s effective. But the legislature was right to reject traditional mandatory minimum sentences, to allow first time offenders a chance for treatment and diversion, and to invest in prison-based treatment and diversion programs.

Partnership for Safety and Justice encouraged legislators to send something to the ballot to compete against IP 40, but we weren’t advocating for a punitive focus. For that reason, we have not officially endorsed the legislative referral.

For a detailed description of the substance of the legislative referral and how it compares to IP 40, please click on the link below:

Comparing Legislative Property Crime Ballot Measure to Mannix’s Initiative Petition 40

Going into the February legislative session, we knew that the IP 40 polled very well and that successfully running a straight No on IP 40 campaign would require millions of dollars we don’t have access to. At the same time, we saw polling that suggested a competing ballot measure with a more balance approach could potentially defeat IP 40. The referral does provide a legitimate chance of beating IP 40, although the referral includes a compromising set of policies.

We are currently assessing the situation and talking to a wide range of allies who have significant electoral campaign experience. First and foremost, we are interested in defeating IP 40. IP 40 would be, by far, the worst thing to happen to Oregon’s criminal justice system since Measure 11. It would create a new set of mandatory minimum sentences, put upwards of 6,000 new people into the state prison system in the first three years alone, and require the construction of three new prisons. To make matters worse, IP 40 would likely lead to a de-funding of the very programs that are proven to reduce recidivism. In that respect, we believe public safety would get worse not better under IP 40.

The question we now need to ask and answer is: In addition to voting “No” on IP 40, would voting “No” on the legislative referral make IP 40 more likely to pass? If so, we will be faced with the all-to-familiar election-time dilemma of possibly having to support the lesser of two evils.

PSJ will be researching and struggling in the coming weeks with what is the best path for us to take. We will have arrived at a definitive stance by our April 5th statewide gathering in Salem. That day-long event will be entirely focused on how we can best defeat IP 40 and its proposed new mandatory minimum sentences.

We will provide continued updates on how we assess the situation ahead. We need everyone up for the fight. We cannot allow Oregon to take a giant stride backward with new mandatory minimums and even more prisons. Oregon‘s future does not lie behind bars.



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On February 4, 2008, President Bush unveiled his fiscal year 2009 budget proposal. The $3.1 trillion measure calls for $22.7 billion for the Department of Justice, including increased spending for border security and the Department’s counterterrorism and intelligence capabilities.

Similar to the President’s proposal last year, Justice funding is consolidated into four large competitive grant programs: the Byrne Public Safety and Protection Program the Violent Crime Reduction Partnership Initiative, the Violence Against Women Program and a juvenile grant program called the Child Safety and Juvenile Justice Program.

Within this consolidation proposal, funding for some individual programs is eliminated, including the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program (JAG), the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), the Weed and Seed Program, and the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA). Funding for MIOTCRA, in particular, has been critical for improving the response to people with mental illnesses who come into contact with the criminal justice system.

The President’s budget also proposes to eliminate funding for the National Institute of Corrections, an agency created by Congress in 1974 to provide state and local corrections organizations with training and technical assistance and to influence correctional policies, practices, and operations nationwide.

Overall the President’s budget includes $39.6 million for prisoner reentry initiatives by combining the Department of Labor’s Prisoner Reentry and the Responsible Reintegration of Youthful Offenders programs into a single program that would “provide mentoring and job training to promote the successful return of adult and juvenile ex-offenders into mainstream society.”

Below is a breakdown of the President’s proposal for criminal justice programs. Additional agency breakdowns and program budgets will be provided as they become available.

Justice Funding Chart Highlights (in millions)


FY06 actual

FY07 actual

FY08 actual

FY09 proposed

Byrne Public Safety and Protection Program



Byrne Justice Assistance Grants










Weed and Seed





Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Program





Byrne Discretionary Grants





Violent Crime Reduction Partnership Initiative



Child Safety and Juvenile Justice Program



Drug Courts





Residential Substance Abuse Treatment





New Violence Against Women Grant Program


Budget Process

The President’s budget proposal is just the first step in a long process to pass a final budget. Next the House and Senate will pass a concurrent Budget Resolution. The Budget Resolution will include the total amount available for discretionary spending and a nonbinding statement of Congress’s spending priorities. The Budget Resolution will not include funding levels for specific programs.

After the Budget Resolution is passed, each appropriations subcommittee will receive a specific allocation. In each chamber, the subcommittee’s responsibility is to allocate its funds among the various programs within its jurisdiction. Finally, after all the subcommittee bills are passed, a final appropriations bill will be considered. The federal fiscal year ends on September 30, although for the past several years, Congress has not passed an appropriations bill by that date.