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The Second Chance Act Becomes Law April 22, 2008

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Thanks in part to work of PSJ members who responded to our Action Alert request with letters and emails to their congressional representatives, the Second Chance Act of 2007 has become law with its signing by the President on April 9, 2008. The Act authorizes $362 million to expand assistance for people currently incarcerated, those returning to their communities after incarceration, and children with parents in prison.

In a sharp change in attitudes about incarceration, many states and private groups have recently experimented with re-entry programs to help released prisoners fit back into their communities and avoid new crime.

“This act represents a major change in crime policy,” said Jeremy Travis, president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, who as a Justice Department official in the Clinton administration helped promote the shift.

The Second Chance Act seeks to promote public safety by reducing recidivism rates among people reentering communities after prison. Presently, two-thirds of formerly incarcerated people are rearrested within three years after release. The services to be funded under the Second Chance Act include:

“From our perspective, this is a huge development,” said Michael Thompson, director of the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments. “Governors, legislatures, corrections and law enforcement agencies around the country were all very supportive of the act.”

More information can be found in an April 8, 2008 NY Times opinion “U.S. Shifting Prison Focus to Re-entry Into Society” and the Sentencing Project’s web story “President Bush Signs Second Chance Bill.” FAMM’s website contains an excellent fact sheet of Frequently Asked Questions.


DNA frees man who spent almost 23 years in prison for rape April 16, 2008

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After spending nearly 23 years in prison for a rape he did not commit, Thomas Clifford McGowan on Wednesday heard the words that set him free.

“Words cannot express how sorry I am for the last 23 years,” said state District Judge Susan Hawk, moments after overturning his convictions. “I believe you can walk out of here a free man.”

McGowan, 49, won his freedom after a DNA test this month proved what he had always professed: that he did not rape a Dallas-area woman in 1985 and then burglarize her apartment. He was convicted of both crimes in separate trials in 1985 and 1986 and sentenced to life each time. The primary evidence against him turned out to be misidentification by the rape victim.

“I’ve been living a life of a living hell and my nightmare is finally over with,” McGowan said after the hearing. “This is the first day of my life. I’m going to go forward.”

Hawk’s ruling, which now must be affirmed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, makes McGowan the 17th Dallas man since 2001 to have his conviction cast aside because of DNA testing. That’s the most of any county in the nation, according to the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal center that specializes in overturning wrongful convictions.

Overall, 31 people have been formally exonerated through DNA testing in Texas, also a national high. That does not include McGowan and at least two others whose exonerations will not become official until Gov. Rick Perry grants pardons or the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issues its rulings.

The crowded courtroom included dozens of McGowan’s relatives. Also attending were three Dallas County men who had been wrongly convicted and eventually exonerated by DNA testing. They greeted McGowan with handshakes and hugs, and one gave him a $100 bill to “get him started.”

McGowan, wearing a button-down shirt and slacks, looked trim and relieved. He said he prayed frequently and was benefiting from some “powerful forces.” While in prison, one of McGowan’s sisters died, and he said he missed watching his sibling’s children grow up.

“I know God forgives, so hey, I’ve got to forgive, too,” McGowan said. “It’s not going to benefit me to be harboring anger or resentment.”

McGowan’s wrongful imprisonment began in May 1985 when a Richardson woman returned home and came upon a burglar in her apartment. The man bound her hands with his belt, raped her at knifepoint and then loaded his car with several items stolen from her apartment, according to court documents.

Police eventually presented the woman with a photo array of seven men. She picked out McGowan’s photo, saying she “thought” he was the attacker. But police told her she had to be certain and “couldn’t just think it was him,” she testified in court. It was then that she said McGowan was “definitely” the attacker, according to court documents.

Just a few words from a police officer can significantly influence whether a witness identifies the wrong person, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck said.

“It’s not that the police officer involved in this matter was intentionally doing anything wrong. He wasn’t,” Scheck said. “That kind of a forced choice response … is very, very damaging.”

More exonerations are expected in Dallas County, where District Attorney Craig Watkins has set up a program in which law students, supervised by the Innocence Project of Texas, are reviewing hundreds of cases in which convicts have requested DNA testing to prove their innocence. About 10 Dallas County cases are in various stages of investigations and DNA testing, and another exoneration is likely within the next few weeks, prosecutors said.

Watkins said he plans to lobby other prosecutors to put in place similar programs.

“This should not be a pilot program that lasts two or three years,” Watkins said.

The DNA from McGowan’s case yielded a full profile that is now being run through state and federal databases, assistant prosecutor Mike Ware said. If a match is found, it could identify the true rapist.


State candidates campaign in Astoria April 13, 2008

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Gazing at 60 voters in the Astoria Event Center, state Sen. Betsy Johnson said: “It’s a good turnout, We have extremely strong candidates. I think it’s exciting! You can feel the excitement!”

With the primary election rapidly approaching, it might be no surprise that political candidates are passing through Astoria to court voters. But the Clatsop County Democratic Central Committee offered a chance to compare many of the local and statewide candidates for the May 20 election.

The committee held a candidates’ night Thursday, giving hopefuls a chance to spend five minutes extolling their virtues.

It was a fast-paced evening. A five-minute speech isn’t much time for swaying a crowd. But voters in attendance expressed pleasure at having a chance to speak to the candidates one-on-one.

Jennifer Cerf, a 30-year-old Astoria resident, said she was excited to see the event held here. “I’m just glad they had a political event,” she said. “I really am into the local stuff.”

And being into the local stuff, Cerf left the candidates’ night carrying a stack of small red fliers she intended to pass out. The fliers indicated that Barack Obama was opening a campaign office in Astoria today at 42 Seventh St. She was taking Obama local.

John Samp, owner of Erickson Floral – who was a Dennis Kucinich backer – said he is now a Barack Obama guy. “I’m that ultrasmall business. I want to know where we’re going as a country,” he said.

The candidates came prepared to rally against siting a Liquefied Natural Gas terminal on the Columbia River.

“Congress took the right away from you to make decisions about LNG,” said Oregon state Sen. Vicki Walker, who is running for Oregon Secretary of State. “We can create renewable energy projects. We won’t need LNG.”

John Kroger, one of two candidates for attorney general, got right to the point. “I strongly and publicly oppose liquefied natural gas,” he said. But he also touched on other issues the state faces.

Kroger said the state and nation need to “go after” the big methamphetamine traffickers from Mexico. But that won’t do much good until programs are in place to treat drug users.

“We have one of the worst drug treatment and enforcement programs in the entire country,” he said.

His opponent, state Rep. Greg Macpherson, had similar views on targeting the “high-level traffickers.” But, he also said Measure 11, which set mandatory sentencing for certain crimes, needs to be reconsidered too.

“Since (Measure 11) was passed, our prison system has doubled,” Macpherson said. “We’re one of five states who spend more on prisons than on education. It takes political courage to take on Measure 11.”

Another candidate for Oregon Secretary of State, Oregon state Sen. Kate Brown, focused on her record of leading the way in initiative reform, voter registration and paid family medical leave.

Will Hobbs, from Portland, appeared at the gathering to discuss his run for David Wu’s seat in Congress. As did Candy Neville, from Eugene, who is running for Gordon Smith’s U.S. Senate seat.

Deborah Boone, who is running unopposed for re-election to the Oregon House, made an appearance.

Locally, Jim Scheller and Kelly Stearns made their cases to be considered for Clatsop County commissioner in District 2. They are both running in the primary against the incumbent, Chairwoman Patricia Roberts.

Scheller promised to build open government and to build coalitions of the various political perspectives within Clatsop County to find solutions to problems that satisfy everybody.

“I like the idea of ‘be the change you want to be,'” he said.

Stearns said she’s running “because this is your county. You need a voice for change.”


President Bush to Sign Unprecedented Prisoner Reentry Legislation April 9, 2008

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The Council of State Governments Justice Center lauds President Bush for his signing of the Second Chance Act of 2007, scheduled for this morning. This first-of-its-kind legislation will authorize various grants to government agencies and nonprofit groups to provide employment assistance, substance abuse treatment, housing, family programming, mentoring, victims support, and other services that can help reduce re-offending and violations of probation and parole.”The signing of the Second Chance Act is a celebrated moment for policymakers who know that, if properly funded, this legislation will increase public safety, improve lives, and make more effective use of taxpayer dollars,” said Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, Justice Center board member and Chair of the New York State Assembly Correction Committee.

A recent report from The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project indicates that nearly 1 in 100 adults are incarcerated in the United States. Earlier Justice Department research suggests that the vast majority of these individuals who are in state prisons will eventually be released to our communities, and more than half of them will return to prison within three years. The Second Chance Act will help communities be better prepared for their return and address issues that are related to reducing their recidivism.

Senators Joseph Biden (D-DE), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) introduced the bill, which was passed by unanimous consent in the Senate. Representatives Danny K. Davis (D-IL), Chris Cannon (R-UT), Stephanie Tubbs-Jones (D-OH), Howard Coble (R-NC) and John Conyers (D-MI) introduced the bill in the House. Though it took more than four years from its first introduction to final passage, the bill had steadfast bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

“The President’s signing the Second Chance Act into law is a tremendous victory,” said Sen. Biden. “With more than two million people serving time in our federal and state prisons, sooner or later, the vast majority – 95 percent – will be released. Many of these offenders will reenter our communities with insufficient monitoring, little or no job training, insufficient housing, and deficient basic life skills. The Second Chance Act will go a long way to help these ex-offenders reintegrate into the community and become productive, contributing members of our community.”

Based on the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates, it is expected that more than 650,000 individuals will return from prison each year to our communities. With the recidivism rate approximated at about 66 percent within three years of release nationally, the impact on public safety and taxpayer spending is tremendous.

“I will be working with my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to make certain that the Second Chance Act has the funding to enable community and faith-based organizations to deliver needed services,” said Sen. Brownback. “Properly supported, this law will also help connect people released from prison and jail to mentoring, vital mental health and substance abuse treatment, expand job training and placement services, and facilitate transitional housing and case management services.”


Klamath DA says cuts might lead to focus on Measure 11 cases April 7, 2008

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District Attorney Ed Caleb of Klamath County says budget cuts might force him to scale back the prosecution of smaller crimes to save money for the major ones, such as rape and murder.

The county’s budget committee is under pressure to make up a $2.2 million shortfall in the $16.8 million requested budget for the 2008-09 fiscal year. For Caleb, that could mean a 12% reduction in his $1.3 million budget.

Caleb said he knows other Oregon district attorneys who have already cut prosecution of less serious offenses to focus on violent Measure 11 crimes.

The district attorney’s office prosecuted roughly 3,300 cases in the past year. Of those, about half were misdemeanors.


Inmate shot, prison locked-down after Sunday brawl

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A guard in an observation tower shot an inmate while trying to break up a brawl involving more than 100 prisoners in a yard at the Snake River Correctional Institution on Sunday, a spokeswoman said.

The inmate’s name and condition have not been released. Three other inmates were taken to a hospital with injuries sustained in the melee that involved roughly 120 inmates, said Amber Campbell, a prison spokeswoman.

Campbell said investigators have yet to determine what started the fight.

She said between 200 and 400 inmates are typically in a prison yard during a recreation period.

Staff members have the authority to shoot, if needed, to stop violence, Campbell said. Shots have been fired before, but this is the first time an inmate has ever been struck.

Campbell did not know the distance from the tower to the yard below.

The medium-security prison near the Idaho state line opened in August 1991 and has almost 3,000 inmates. It was on lockdown status and visiting hours were canceled Sunday afternoon.


Oregon issues forecast on prison populations April 4, 2008

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Oregon‘s prison population was 13,405 on Jan. 1, having grown by 0.7 percent (98 beds) during 2007, according to the state corrections population forecast. The prison population is expected to grow at a slightly faster rate during 2008. The state expects the corrections population o be 13,722 on Jan. 1, 2009, which is 2.4 percent (317 beds) higher than on Jan 1 of this year.

The rate of growth in the prison population has gradually slowed. A comparison of biennial growth rates shows that the population grew by 15.7 percent in the 1999-01 biennium, 12.2 percent in 2001-03, 7.3 percent in 2003-05, and 4.9 percent in 2005-07. Growth in the current biennium is expected to be 2.2 percent (296 beds), while 4.3 percent growth (596 beds) is expected for the following biennium (2009-11). The population is expected to reach 14,400 by July 1, 2011.

Mandatory minimum sentences for certain violent offenders have driven growth in prison populations (Measure 11, ORS 137.700). Higher intakes of inmates for repeat property offenses (RPO) have also been a factor (ORS 137.717).

The felony probation caseload was 20,294 on Oct. 1, 2007, having declined by 0.9 percent (185 cases) since April 2007. The probation caseload is expected to grow by 6.3 percent (1,272 cases) to 21,566 by July 2009, the end of the current biennium. It is expected to grow another 3.9 percent (846 cases) during the 2009-11 biennium, reaching 22,412 by July 2011.

The parole and post prison supervision caseload was 13,752 on Oct. 1, 2007, having grown by 0.5 percent (62 cases) since April 2007. It is expected to increase by 0.4 percent (58 cases) by July 2009, reaching 13,810 at the end of the biennium.

The Local Control population was 1,131 on Oct. 1, 2007. It is expected grow by a further 11.0 percent (128 beds) during the 2007-09 biennium, reaching 1,259 by July 1, 2009.

Key Assumptions

This forecast is based on current law, policy, and practice. The most critical assumptions underlying the forecast are:

• Prison intakes will grow slightly in FY 2008 and 2009. An increase in repeat property offenses and other non-Measure 11 intakes will account for most of this growth.

• Although arrest rates will fluctuate during the forecast period, the average will be close to the 2005 arrest rate.

• Sentencing practices typical of 2006 and 2007 will continue over the forecast period.

• Institutional and community corrections policies typical of FY 2006 and 2007 will continue over the forecast period. These include the Alternative Incarceration Program and policies regarding earned time credit awards, revocation and sanctions

Forecast risk

Changes to Oregon’s sentencing laws—whether through the legislative process, ballot measures, or judicial rulings—pose major risk to the forecast. Statutory changes affecting prison sentence length or disposition (i.e., prison vs. probation) can have immediate and substantial effects on correctional populations.

Initiative Petition 40, which will appear on the November 2008 ballot, would substantially increase penalties for certain property crimes. No official estimate of the initiative’s impact is available, but the measure would likely cause a significant increase in the prison population. The initiative would lengthen some prison sentences and send more offenders to prison rather than probation.

Similarly, Initiative Petition 131 would lengthen sentences for specified repeat sex crimes and for driving under the influence of intoxicants. Initiative Petition 132 would restrict the early release of felons, and would pose a potential risk to this forecast.

Senate Bill 1087 may also exert an impact on this forecast, if it receives voters’ approval with more votes than Initiative Petition 40. It would increase terms of imprisonment for certain drug-trafficking crimes, as well as specified repeat property and identity theft crimes committed on or after Jan. 2, 2009.

State and local government budgets may also affect handling of felony offenders. As an example, community corrections caseloads were significantly affected by budgetary constraints to the court system in 2003. Budgetary changes and constraints are an ongoing risk to forecasting.

Crime trends change over time. As law enforcement and prosecution adapt to changing crime trends, a different mix of felony offenders may result. Such changes could affect the corrections population in unforeseeable ways. This forecast is based on current law, policy, and practice.


The Corrections Population Forecast is produced semi-annually by the Office of Economic Analysis (OEA) and the Corrections Population Forecast Advisory Committee.

The forecast covers state-funded correctional populations: prison, felony probation, parole and post-prison supervision, and felons serving local sentences of 12 or fewer months (Local Control). The forecast is used to develop the budget for the Oregon Department of Corrections.

OEA uses a flow model to forecast correctional populations. The model simulates the flow of offenders through the criminal justice system from arrest through prosecution, sentencing, release, and revocation. The correctional population forecasts are inter-related. The forecast is based on offender data from the Corrections Information System (CIS).

The annual methodology review provides detailed information on how these forecasts are produced. It is available at our website, www.oea.das.state.or.us.

Of special note, this April 2008 forecast is an extension of the October 2007 forecast. The Office of Economic Analysis is in the process of filling the vacant position of Correction Forecast Analyst. Actual caseload has been added and then forecasted, using the underlying trends from the October 2007 forecast. Given the close tracking of the past forecasts, this method was chosen for this transition period. The October 2008 forecast will return to the methodology used in the previous forecasts.