jump to navigation

Measure 57 Delayed To Ease Oregon Budget Pain June 29, 2009

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , add a comment

Oregon lawmakers agreed Saturday to release public safety agencies from substantial cuts but postpone most requirements of a voter-passed law mandating longer sentences for repeat drug dealers and property offenders.

The 18-month postponement of Measure 57 won’t take effect until early next year and is expected to save $25.5 million. Lawmakers also increased earned, good-time credit for some nonviolent offenders, saving about $6.5 million.

That helps get the public safety budget for 2009-11 to $1.3 billion, a 7 percent drop from 2007-09.
Facing Tuesday’s deadline to wrap up this year’s session, the Senate spent hours Saturday debating budgets, education policy and other matters. Tempers were frayed as the end of the difficult session nears.
But senators spent less than 15 minutes politely debating House Bill 3508, the product of months of negotiations over how the state can keep prison costs down while honoring the intent of Measure 57, approved by voters last year.

The law requires longer sentences for repeat property thieves and drug offenders. The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission estimated that it would cost the state $60 million over the next two years.

Critics pointed out that the Legislature itself put Measure 57 on the ballot as an alternative to an even stricter sentencing measure.

“The voters passed it,” said Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton. “The last thing we should do is go back on what we agreed to do.”

Because the Legislature is suspending a voter-passed law, both chambers needed a two-thirds majority to go along. The Senate voted 22-8 in favor of the delay Saturday, following the 40-19 vote in the House on Friday. In both chambers, the Democratic majority needed Republican votes to make the change.

“In many ways, this deal is historic because it’s very rare that the Legislature chooses to be smart on crime rather than just tough on crime,” said Rep. Chip Shields, D-Portland, one of the proponents of the Measure 57 delay. “Public safety is about more than just prisons. It’s about putting troopers on the road and funding forensic labs, and drug and alcohol treatment.”

The budget spares the Oregon State Police so that the state can hire enough troopers to maintain 24/7 coverage; keeps a youth correctional facility in Burns open; and pays for drug and alcohol treatment programs along with forensic labs. All were slated for cuts if the sentencing law had not been suspended.



Measure 57 Key To Ending The 2009 Session June 23, 2009

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , add a comment

On the road to adjournment of any legislative session, roadblocks always emerge.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, encountered one June 10, when one Democrat declined to vote for a budget-balancing tax bill and blocked its approval by the required 60 percent majority.

But that roadblock disappeared in less than 24 hours.

House Speaker Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone, encountered one Friday, when he fell three votes short of the two-thirds majority required to approve lesser prison sentences under a ballot measure that voters passed in the fall.

Lawmakers will know Monday, when the bill can be reconsidered, if that roadblock has disappeared — or whether leaders will have to come up with a detour.

There are likely to be other roadblocks as leaders press to close the 2009 session. The target is June 30, but the talk is of sometime at the end of this week.

Many bills still are in the legislative pipeline, though not as many as last week, and many agency budgets have not yet emerged from committee, though many soon will.

But public-safety budgets will hinge on how the House resolves what to do about House Bill 3508, which failed on a 37-22 vote.

Not only does it phase in Measure 57, which lengthens sentences for repeat property and drug offenders, it proposes nearly a dozen other changes that generate savings from unneeded prison beds and smaller community-corrections caseloads.

A companion bill, which hinges on passage of House Bill 3508 or something similar, spends $60 million to restore programs that are proposed for cuts in prisons, the Oregon Youth Authority, Oregon State Police and other public-safety agencies.

David Rogers, executive director of the Partnership for Safety and Justice, expressed disappointment after Friday’s vote.

“Oregon’s approach to public safety just took a giant step in the wrong direction,” said Rogers, whose group promotes alternatives to prisons and mandatory sentences. “HB 3508 was designed to not only protect significant parts of our public-safety system from serious budget cuts but also to institute reforms that made our system smarter and more cost-effective.”



To Pay For Prisons, Oregon Might Release Some Prisoners June 14, 2009

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

Faced with a $78 million hole in the state public safety budget, lawmakers are proposing to save money by delaying a voter-approved measure requiring longer sentences for property thieves. Also, they want to release prisoners early for good behavior and ease penalties for people caught with small amounts of drugs.

Lawmakers have spent months negotiating how Oregon might hold down prison costs while honoring the intent of voters who last year endorsed Measure 57, which slapped tougher sentences on property and drug crimes.

The result is a deal spelled out in two bills that could get a committee vote as early as today.

The first bill takes on the tricky question of delaying Measure 57, which the Legislature put on the ballot as an alternative to a more expensive sentencing measure.

About 110 people have been sentenced to prison since Measure 57 took effect Jan. 1, 2009.

Those prisoners would continue to serve their time as prescribed under Measure 57. Those who deal high volumes of drugs or steal from the elderly also would serve the full time mandated in Measure 57.

However, House Bill 2335 would suspend Measure 57 terms for others convicted of drug or property crimes until January 2012. State officials estimate that would save about $60 million over two years.

The bill also would make nonviolent criminals eligible for early release based on good behavior. Estimated savings: $8 million.

“I don’t like letting people out of jail,” said Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a veteran of 31 years in law enforcement.

“If it wasn’t for the budget crunch, we wouldn’t be having the debate,” he said. “But the cuts are so devastating that we have to save money.”

Barker estimates the state could save $95 million to be plowed back into prisons, courts and state police.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski sent a letter Monday praising the four Democrats who led the negotiations.

The deal will “generate enough savings to maintain critical public safety services like State Police 24/7 patrol, Oregon Youth Authority beds, court days and other services,” he wrote.

The state’s prisons budget has grown 20 percent each biennium since 1995.

One factor driving up costs is Measure 11, passed by voters in 1994. It imposed longer mandatory prison terms for 16 violent and sex-related offenses, required juveniles to be prosecuted as adults for those crimes and prohibited any good behavior credit for anyone who received a Measure 11 sentence.

Last fall, voters endorsed Measure 57, which mandated longer sentences for repeat property thieves. It is estimated to cost the state an additional $74 million in the next two years.

The proposed Measure 57 sentencing changes are by no means a sure thing.

Because lawmakers are considering decreasing sentences imposed by voters, the changes require a two-thirds majority: 40 votes in the House and 20 in the Senate.



Crime Summit Seeks New Approach To Criminal Justice Policies June 13, 2009

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , add a comment

On the same day that newspapers were reporting that one in 31 American adults is caught up in the correctional system, Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott, chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, hosted a Crime Summit in Washington, D.C. with the goal of developing a more enlightened approach to crime. The half-day event on March 3 addressed three broad issues: prevention and intervention,
sentencing and alternatives, and reentry and collateral consequences. FAMM participated in the summit. The sentencing and alternatives panel focused on the reasons behind the incredible growth in the number of people in
prison, and those who are otherwise involved in the criminal justice system. The panelists brought three distinct perspectives, for the most part blaming the inflexible and harsh mandatory minimum sentencing regime for growth in the U.S. correctional system. U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner expressed frustration at the lack of discretion and being unable to weigh the culpability and characteristics of an offender when handing down a sentence. “I don’t know if anyone can understand what it’s like to sentence a defendant to a sentence which you know to be manifestly unfair.” Kemba Smith, president of the Kemba Smith Foundation and a member of FAMM, shared her story as someone who was sentenced under the laws, receiving 24 ½ years for a first-time, nonviolent crack cocaine offense. Jim Felman, co-chair of the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section and practicing defense attorney, called on Congress to eliminate mandatory minimums and to increase the availability of alternatives to incarceration, including diverting or treating some low-level offenders. Other panels on prevention, intervention, reentry and collateral consequences explored some of the toughest challenges facing people in the criminal justice system today.
To read the report, Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the Next Administration and Congress, please visit: www.2009transition.org.


Good Time Legislation Would Restore Pre-1986 Federal Good Time Policy June 12, 2009

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , 3 comments

On March 12, Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) introduced H.R. 1475, the Federal Prison Work Incentive Act of 2008, a bill that would substantially revive the good time system that existed before November 1, 1987. As defined in H.R. 1475, good time credit is the amount of time a prisoner, whose incarceration record shows substantial observance of Bureau of Prisons (BOP) regulations, is eligible to have deducted from the term of his or her sentence. The amount would vary, depending on the length of the prisoner’s sentence, among other things. Congressman Davis’s proposal would increase earned good time, restore “industrial” good time (providing for additional opportunities to reduce one’s sentence by engaging in work opportunities), allow forfeiture of all good time credit in the event of infractions in prison, and provide for potential restoration of forfeited good time credit. Although H.R. 1475 technically would apply to all prisoners sentenced on or after November 1, 1987, it would not be retroactive. It would not recalculate good time already earned under the current system.


Webb Commission To Study Criminal Justice System June 11, 2009

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , add a comment

On March 26, Senator James Webb (D-Va.) introduced S. 714, the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009, legislation that would create a blue-ribbon commission charged with conducting an 18-month, topto-bottom review of the nation’s entire criminal justice system and offering concrete recommendations for reform. The bill would create an 11-member commission, nominated by the majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate, and the Democratic and Republican Governors Associations. The chairperson would be appointed by President Obama. Among the commission’s duties are a comparison of incarceration policies in countries with similar political systems and an examination of current drug policy and its impact on incarceration, crime and violence, sentencing, and reentry programs. In a statement on the legislation, the principal Republican cosponsor of the bill, Senator Arlen Specter (R-Penn.), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, outlined the outcomes he hopes to see from the commission, including the proper role of incarceration as a means to achieve accountability and public security. FAMM is a leading organization developing support and working for passage of the legislation.


U.S. Senators Need Your Support For Webb Bill To Revamp Criminal Justice System

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , add a comment

The U.S. Senate is holding a hearing today on Senator Jim Webb’s (D-Va.) bill, S. 714, the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009. The bill would create a commission charged with conducting a top-to-bottom review of the nation’s criminal justice system and offering concrete recommendations for reform.

The hearing, entitled “Exploring the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009,” will be webcast live at 3 p.m. EST. To learn more about the hearing and to watch it, follow this link: http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/hearing.cfm?id=3906

FAMM believes the commission will find that any comprehensive reform of our criminal justice system must include eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing laws. FAMM is submitting testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs endorsing the legislation and encouraging the commission to reject one-size-fits-all sentencing.

We need your help to ensure that S. 714 makes it through the next legislative hurdle, passing out of committee and going to the Senate floor. One way to encourage movement is to build Senate support for the bill and increase the number of cosponsors. Please write your senators after the hearing and thank them for cosponsoring the bill, or ask them to become cosponsors of S. 714. Click here to use FAMM’s action center to write your senators.

Thank you for supporting FAMM and sentencing justice. We will update you on the status of this legislation through emails and our website, www.famm.org.


Obama: Sentencing Reform Supporter? June 9, 2009

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , add a comment

Another star in the firmament is the new president. President Obama is filling up federal departments and agencies with new appointees, many of whom seem more receptive to the arguments FAMM has been making against mandatory sentences. President Obama himself has been the most vocal. Noting that his predecessor, former President George W. Bush, expressed skepticism about imposing long sentences for first-time drug offenders, then-candidate Obama said, “I agree with the president. The difference is, he hasn’t done anything about it. When I’m president, I will. We will review these sentences to see where we can be smarter on crime and reduce the blind and counterproductive warehousing of nonviolent offenders.” FAMM worked closely with the transition team at the Department of Justice and looks forward to working with President Obama to keep his commitment. Presidential attention and leadership on this issue could be the difference between success and further delay.


House Appropriations Subcommittee Includes $114 million for Second Chance Act Programs for FY2010 June 5, 2009

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , add a comment

On Thursday, June 4, 2009, the House Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee approved a draft appropriations bill for fiscal year 2010 that includes $114 million for Second Chance Act programs. The bill, which contains $64.4 billion in total budget authority, provides $3.4 billion for state and local law enforcement programs, including:

Subcommittee approval is only the first step in the appropriations process. The appropriations bills must be passed by both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, as well as the full House and Senate. The full House Appropriations Committee is expected to mark up the measure next week, and the House is expected to take it up during the week of June 15.


FAMM Surpasses Monetary Goal June 2, 2009

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , add a comment

Julie Stewart from Families Against Mandatory Minimums just announced the following:

This morning I came into the office and discovered a stack of checks and an in-box full of email contributions that came in over the weekend, proving that your support pushed us over the top of our $100,000 mark for the May Challenge!
That means we did it !  And we will now receive an extra $50,000 promised by a generous friend of FAMM!
I am so grateful and humbled by the donations you sent – ranging from $1 to $10,000.  I appreciate every dollar and want you to know that we will use them strategically to get the most bang for the buck in our fight for sensible sentencing laws.
With your help, I knew we would make our fundraising goal.  Now, with your help, I know we will change sentencing laws that will change the lives of thousands of people.  Thank you for joining me in this battle for justice!