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Two Great Ways to Get Involved with Partnership For Safety and Justice! July 30, 2008

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , add a comment

Getting Beyond Barriers – Challenging Barriers to Re-entry after Prison
Employment, housing, education, debt – people returning home from prison face many challenges in these and other areas. Join PSJ for its monthly Community Education and Discussion night when we talk about how people are organizing to decrease the barriers people face after prison. We’ll hear from formerly incarcerated people about their experiences with re-entry about the work they are doing to decrease the barriers people face after prison.

Getting Beyond Barriers
Wednesday, August 6, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

Partnership for Safety and Justice, 825 NE 20th, Suite 250, Portland
Please email Caylor to let her know you’ll be there.

Take Action on Action Day – Defeat the Mandatory Minimum Measure!

PSJ and the Bus Project are headed to Salem on August 10 to talk to people about the mandatory minimum measure.  If you take only one action this summer to stop Mandatory Minimum Madness, THIS IS IT! We have a chance to make a real difference in our state in one day, and we don’t want you to miss out. All training will be provided, and we will match you up with an experienced canvasser.

Action Day
August 10, Salem

If you’re in Portland, join us for a ride to Salem on the Bus Project’s bus. For all our friends and members in the Willamette Valley, we’ll send you directions to our meeting place in Salem. Just email Rachel or give her a call at 503-335-8449 and she’ll send you directions to Portland and Salem meeting places.

Please let us count on you to come out on August 10th. It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be educational, and it’s going to make a real impact for this campaign and future PSJ work. Please help us meet our goal and reach 2000 voters to defeat the Mandatory Minimum Measure!


Courts Give Measure 11 Mandatory Minimums a Second Look July 29, 2008

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , 1 comment so far

Representative Chip Shields wrote a good article about the Rodriguez case and how the Oregon Supreme Court has agreed to step in. I’m posting the article here, but then it is very important to go to his website post and read all the comments. There are quite a few, but it is important to read them and ADD YOUR OWN COMMENT. Here’s an excellent place to make yourself heard!

Should juries know the likely sentence when deciding guilt?

In the run up to the primary election, you may have missed this important criminal-justice story. On May 9, the Oregon Supreme Court decided it will consider whether, in the words of James Pitkin at Willamette Week, grazing a boy’s head with your breasts should get you over six years in the slammer. The case is State v. Veronica Rodriguez. Pitkin says, "The jury voted 10-2 to convict Rodriguez for allegedly pulling the back of the boy’s head against her chest." She is facing a six year and three months sentence for Sex Abuse I under Measure 11, the 1994 voter-approved ballot measure penned by Kevin Mannix.

Judge Nancy Campbell, now retired, set aside the Measure 11 sentence and instead sentenced her to 16 months using the state’s sentencing guidelines. She stated that applying Measure 11 in this case would violate the Oregon constitution’s cruel and unusual punishment clause. The Court of Appeals overruled her and reinstated the six year-three month mandatory minimum sentence and in May the Oregon Supreme Court agreed to take up the case.

Click here and here for Willamette Week coverage of the case. The Oregonian covers it here .

What’s interesting is that in April 2000, the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld Measure 11 in an equally controversial sentence given to Justin Thorp– a 16 year old who was sentenced to six years and three months for having consensual sex with his 13 year-old girlfriend. According to news reports (not-on-line unfortunately),

Clackamas County Circuit Judge Robert Morgan determined that such a sentence was cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Oregon Constitution. Morgan based his decision in part on the fact that the girl said she initiated the sex. Thorp was three years and 10 days older than his victim. But had the difference in their ages been three years or less, it would not have qualified as second-degree rape. At most, he would have faced a misdemeanor sex offense and been sentenced to probation, prosecutors and defense attorneys agree.Morgan opted to sentence him to 35 months in prison, based on state sentencing guidelines. The state appealed, arguing that the 75-month sentence (six years-three months) did not violate the Oregon Constitution.

A 5-4 majority of the Court of Appeals agreed. The case ended there. Thorp had to do all six years and three months.

What’s also interesting is that the Thorp opinion was penned by Judge Paul DeMuniz, who was elected to the Oregon Supreme Court six months later. He is now the Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice and a man for whom I have immeasurable respect.

Maybe Judge DeMuniz and his Supreme Court colleagues want to give Measure 11 a second look in State v. Rodriguez. But the issues in this new case are much narrower. Unlike in State v. Thorp, Rodriguez and her attorney Peter Garlan are conceding that Measure 11 is constitutional, but are claiming that it’s application against Rodriguez violates the proportionality clause of the Oregon constitution in this case only.

I trust juries, so in 2005, Sens. Carter, Gordly and I introduced HB 2986 , which gives jurors information on the likely sentence the courts will impose upon a finding of guilt. It died for lack of a hearing in the then Republican-led Oregon House.

I’ve been thinking of reintroducing that bill, so I checked in with one well-respected constitutional scholar on the issue. I haven’t gotten his okay to use his name yet, but he wrote back:

As a general proposition, I believe that all human beings should be as fully informed as possible about the consequences of all of their actions before they undertake those actions. Before you put your hand on that hot stove, you should understand that you might get burned. Before you jump into the Clackamas River at High Rocks, you should understand that you might drown in a whirlpool. Before you get on TriMet without a ticket, you should be aware of the penalty if you get caught. And before a jury decides to do X or Y or Z, its members should understand the results that could flow from that decision.

We all want as much information as possible about the consequences of our actions; why shouldn’t we give a jury as much information as possible about the consequences of theirs?

So what do you think? Should Veronica Rodriguez and Justin Thorp’s juries have known they would be sentenced to six years and three months each? Or is justice best served by keeping that information from them and having juries only decide guilt or innocence?



Solitary Confinement: Torture or Justified Prison Tactics? July 25, 2008

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The only thing that’s different about the barbaric treatment of Robert King Wilkerson, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox from that of thousands of other American prisoners is that they had the dubious distinction of being held in solitary confinement longer than any other known prisoners in American prison history. The three men were held in isolation for more than three decades in the Angola, Louisiana prison.

The ludicrously long solitary confinement of the three former Black Panthers, known as the Angola 3, sparked international rage, was condemned by Amnesty International, prompted a congressional visit, and resulted in civil suits and endless court appeals. The three prisoners were convicted in the 1972 slaying of an Angola prison guard.

There was no physical evidence linking them to the murder. They were convicted on the testimony of a serial sex offender serving a life sentence. Despite information that prison officials withheld evidence from jurors, relied on tainted testimony, and the subsequent recanting of their testimony against the men by prosecution witnesses, the three face yet another round of court fights.

Since the early 1990s, thousands of prisoners have been locked up in tiny cells for days, weeks, months and even years on end. They are kept in the cells for up to 23 hours, with limited visiting and exercise privileges. The trend toward dumping problem inmates in solitary confinement has become standard penal procedure in many prisons. In fact, the penchant for isolating prisoners has sparked a mini-boom in the building of isolation cell prisons, where hundreds of inmates serve virtually their entire sentence in solitary confinement.

California was one of the first to launch the maximum-security isolation cell prison boom in 1989, when it built Pelican Bay. In the next few years, Oregon, Mississippi, Indiana, Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin and a dozen other states all built new, isolation unit prisons. In 1994 the U.S. Bureau of Prisons built ADX Florence in Colorado. The feds have dumped a virtual "who’s who" of convicted international and domestic terrorists in the prison. They include 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, Unibomber Ted Kaczynski, former FBI agent and convicted spy Robert Hansen, Olympic Park and abortion-clinic bomber Eric Rudolph, and many others. By the end of the 1990s, more than 30 states operated control-units, or Supermax prisons. By then, the number of prisoners serving their sentence in isolation cells had sharply risen. A Justice Department study found that some states had piled nearly 20 percent of their inmates in these prisons by the end of the 1990s.

The drastic plunge in crime, nationally, has not stopped the rush by states to lock up even more inmates in isolation cells. By 2005, 40 states were operating Supermax prisons. The prisons held more than 25,000 prisoners. Many of them will spend nearly all of their prison years in solitary confinement.



Kroger backs alternative to crime measure July 19, 2008

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , 2 comments

Having won both major-party nominations for attorney general, John Kroger is turning his sights on opposing one ballot measure and supporting another aimed at property and drug criminals.

Kroger said Wednesday that he opposes an initiative proposed by former legislator Kevin Mannix of Salem, who wants to extend mandatory minimum prison sentences to first-time property and drug offenders. Kroger supports an alternative written by the Legislature to focus on repeat offenders and drug treatment.

"I believe people who are committing repeat property offenses need to be held accountable," Kroger said at a Marion County DemoForum luncheon.

"But the reason I am passionate about this (legislative measure) is that in the long term, if we want to reduce the crime rate and spend less on prisons, we have to have a first-rate drug-treatment program in this state. It’s the No. 1 priority for law enforcement, and this is a good start."

In winning the Democratic primary May 20 — and enough write-in votes to make him the Republican nominee — Kroger campaigned on expanding drug treatment, which the attorney general is not in charge of.

But Kroger said effective treatment must be combined with enforcement if Oregon is to deal with the consequences of methamphetamine, such as property crimes and dislocation of families.

Kroger hopes to use his campaign soapbox, and his experience as a federal prosecutor, to persuade Oregon voters to reject Mannix’s measure and approve the Legislature’s.

Both measures will be on the Nov. 4 ballot, although numbers have not been assigned. If voters pass both, the one with more votes prevails.

Mannix’s measure proposes mandatory minimum prison terms, starting at three years, for first-time property and drug offenders. It’s modeled on his 1994 proposal for violent criminals. Since Measure 11 took effect in 1995, the state’s prison population has doubled to 13,500 inmates.

The Legislature’s measure would increase prison terms for repeat offenders but also require more comprehensive drug treatment.



Another View July 9, 2008

Posted by FairSentencing in : Effects of Measure 11 , 4 comments

Here’s a letter to the editor of The Daily Astorian dated June 12:

It’s so difficult to convey to people what prison is like, and how it affects families ("Debunking myths about Oregon’s Measure 11," The Daily Astorian, June 12).

Until you live through it, the misconceptions abound – everything from the inmates just sitting around watching TV and being fed three good meals a day, with all their health care needs being met, etc., to the idea that prison is a violent, dangerous environment with rapes and gang wars going on.

No, inmates do not sit around watching TV all day, most of us would not eat the food they are served and medical care is minimal at best, but mostly nonexistent. Yes, it can be dangerous, but so is living in the outside world.

Measure 11 takes punishment to a level way beyond any constructive benefit to the inmate or society. Prison is about loss of freedom for an adequate amount of time. To add on a punitive phase, and keep a person behind bars for an extended period of time as Measure 11 allows, serves no constructive purpose whatsoever.

I would say you would be hard pressed to find an ex-felon who could honestly say that their life got back on track because of their extended incarceration under Measure 11.

Debbi Lester
Vancouver, Wash.