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Early-Release Law Fuels Heated Debate February 21, 2010

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New arguments flared Thursday in the fiery debate about a controversial new law that expanded early release for state prison inmates.

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, sharply criticized a radio ad campaign sponsored by the Oregon Anti-Crime Alliance.

The group’s ad campaign, aired statewide Monday through Wednesday, featured a case in which a former inmate was freed late last year by the new early-release law. The ex-convict recently was accused of new criminal charges.

The ad said: “A woman is asleep in her own apartment. Suddenly, she’s attacked by a registered sex offender and convicted burglar. Even worse, he got out of prison early because of a law Oregon politicians passed last summer. And he’s not the only one.”

Prozanski described the ad as distorted and inflammatory because it didn’t provide specifics about Oregon’s early-release law, or key timeframes about the featured inmate’s case.

The 2009 Legislature expanded so-called “earned-time” sentence reductions for prison inmates from 20 percent to 30 percent.

Under the new law, the inmate featured in the ad was released in early October after receiving a 30 percent sentence reduction. Without the extra 10 percent shaved off his sentence, he would have been released in late November.

The ads failed to point out that the new accusations against the released inmate stemmed from a crime committed in January, Prozanski said.

“It seems very disingenuous, at best, if not outright deceiving,” he told the Statesman Journal during an interview Thursday. “The person would have been out anyway under the 20 percent rule, and (his alleged new crime) was not committed in that window of the additional 10 percent.”



Report: Oregon Prison Spending No. 2 In Nation February 19, 2010

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From KTVZ.COM news sources

Oregon is “spending wildly” on keeping people in prison, according to critics of the state’s current rate of prison spending.

They are reacting to a new report that ranks Oregon’s investment in prisons higher than almost every other state.

The National Association of State Budget Officers reports the Oregon Legislature allocates almost double the average percentage of general fund dollars to corrections. While the national average for prison spending is 7 percent of a state’s general fund, Oregon’s spending is almost 13 percent.

Denise Welch, communications director for the Partnership for Safety and Justice, a criminal justice reform advocacy group, says there are better ways to spend that money.

“Shifting just a fraction of the dollars now spent on prisons to drug treatment and other crime prevention services would be a much more cost effective approach to increasing public safety,” Welch told the Oregon News Service.

Even with passage of ballot measures 66 and 67 this week, state revenue is down. So, Welch says Oregon needs to make it’s money go further. In some cases, prison alternatives – like drug courts and drug treatment – save money, she adds.

“If Oregon continues to spend wildly on prisons and incarceration – something has to give. Building and filling prisons is expensive. There are smarter ways to spend our limited public safety dollars.”

Oregon’s corrections spending has been increasing since 1994, when Measure 11 was passed, mandating minimum sentences in criminal cases.

Those who supported Measure 11 say it has been an effective crime deterrent. But, Welch points out it has also been costly; the state has built four prisons (including the Deer Ridge Correctional Institution in Madras) and expanded five others in the past decade to accommodate more prisoners.

The budget officers’ report says Oregon now spends more to lock up inmates than it does on higher education.

The full report is online at www.nasbo.org/Publications/StateExpenditureReport/tabid/79/Default.aspx.


Judge Refuses Measure 11 Sentence February 17, 2010

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Applause erupted Tuesday in a Marion County courtroom as a judge departed from a tough sentencing law approved by Oregon voters, deciding on probation for a former prison officer convicted of assaulting an inmate.

Circuit Judge Albin Norblad told the ex-officer, Jamin Dumas, that his conviction for second-degree assault didn’t warrant the 70-month prison term dictated by Measure 11.

“You screwed up. You slipped once. That doesn’t deserve five to seven years,” Norblad said.

The judge’s announcement of the probationary sentence triggered applause from a courtroom packed with supporters of Dumas, 60. The contingent backing the former officer included representatives of the NAACP, corrections officers and Dumas’ wife and eight children.

“I am ecstatic,” Barbara Dumas said outside the courtroom. “My husband was not guilty to begin with. Our main concern right now was to keep him out of prison. He does not belong in prison.”

Norblad invoked rarely used judicial discretion in deviating from Measure 11, approved by voters in 1994 to toughen punishment for violent offenders.

Senate Bill 1049, passed by the Legislature in 1997, allows judges to depart from the mandatory sentences prescribed by Measure 11 in certain cases of assault, kidnapping and robbery. Judges typically use such latitude only when offenders, such as Dumas, have histories clear of prior criminal conduct.

Norblad previously found Dumas guilty of second-degree assault and official misconduct in connection with a May 2008 incident at the Oregon State Correctional Institution, an 890-inmate medium-security prison in southeast Salem.

The corrections corporal entered the cell of a defiant inmate who repeatedly subjected him to racial slurs. Dumas used physical force to subdue the inmate, who suffered a broken collarbone.

Dumas was placed on leave during an investigation of the incident. He received a letter March 9, 2009, notifying him that he was being fired.

Faced with criminal charges, Dumas waived his right to a jury trial. Norblad recently found him guilty after a two-day trial in December.



Bill To Review The Entire Criminal Justice System February 15, 2010

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From Jennifer Seltzer Stitt, FAMM Federal Legislative Affairs Director:

Every journey begins with a single step.  Yesterday the Senate Judiciary Committee took that step and approved S. 714, the National Criminal Justice Commission Act.  S. 714, introduced by Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.), would create a blue-ribbon, bipartisan panel to review the criminal justice system from top to bottom.  The bill is important because any examination of the criminal justice system will inevitably lead to a review of sentencing policies and mandatory minimums.  That’s why FAMM is working so hard on this bill!

Now the bill must be approved by the entire Senate.  We don’t know when that will happen, but it will undoubtedly require more phone calls and letters from you, and Capitol Hill visits from us.

Thanks for helping us get the bill this far.  We still have a way to go, but the journey is off to a very good start.


Community Corrections Helps Offenders Re-Enter Society February 13, 2010

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Public perception of a revolving-door justice system is countered by not-so-alarming statistics: A vast majority of offenders processed through the Washington County Community Corrections Center do not re-offend, returning to society clean and sober with a renewed sense of optimism about their future.

“I’m tired of running,” said one resident during a tour conducted for county officials Tuesday.

“Before, I thought ‘the first chance I get, I’m running,’” the young man continued. “I don’t have that desire anymore.”

With structure and accountability achieved through a group dynamic, the treatment and transition programs at the center make him feel like positive change is possible. Many offenders like him elect to extend their required sentences to complete one of the center’s transitional programs.

“I will always have the desire to use (drugs and alcohol), but now I have the tools to turn that off,” he said. “I thank you guys for giving me that chance.”

Of 2,026 offenders housed in the center between January and December 2008, 89 percent completed required programs, said Director John Hartner.

Many offenders eventually find themselves in the center’s transitional drug and alcohol treatment programs. Since 2001, the county contracts with several agencies to staff the Recovery Mentor Program, which helps take residents through the steps of rejoining the community — finding jobs and housing, maintaining healthy relationships and fulfilling ongoing commitments. Many of the mentors are people who have had drug and alcohol problems themselves, and have been in the criminal justice system as a result. To be hired, they must have two years of sobriety, and receive ongoing professional and ethical training.

It is generally accepted that to succeed in recovery, addicts need a clean and sober place to live, and an individual with like experiences to show them the ropes, Hartner said.

“They’re really a very effective bridge in this transition process,” Hartner said. Mentors also benefit from the experience.

“It’s really helpful for people in recovery to continue to help other people in recovery,” he said.

Of 283 offenders in the Recovery Mentor Program in 2008, about 90 percent are now in stable housing, employed, financially self-supporting and attending continuing support groups and required treatment.

Community Corrections, supported by an annual budget of $15 million and staffed by 106 full-time-equivalent positions, is responsible for providing probation, parole, post-prison supervision and residential services to the adult offender population.

All community corrections residents are assigned to a counselor and a case plan is developed to fit residents’ needs while addressing their terms of probation. Residents are offered support with their transition and there is always structure and accountability.

Evidence-based treatment practices include family participation, role playing, therapeutic movement and anger management.

“Anger management is a way to address their impulsivity,” says center Manager Karleigh Mollahan. “Impulsivity is a big factor in recidivism.”

Other in-house programs include mental health services, wellness and nutrition and life skills training for employment, parenting, computer literacy and fellowship. Treating the whole person leads to changes in behavior, said another resident.

“We become a community inside,” he said. “That translates to being a part of the community on the outside.”

Rules are strictly enforced for 277 residents who later move into any of 38 transitional clean and sober housing facilities throughout the county. Subsidies help with initial expenses, but then residents are expected to pay their own way.

Some of the transitional houses use paid employees to monitor residents, while others elect their own officers, but there’s continuing accountability, Hartner said.


New Money-Saving Prisons Law Blamed For Sex Offender’s Release February 11, 2010

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He charged his pick-up truck full speed ahead into the Marion County Courthouse, shooting at a police officer, and setting fires inside the building.

That same man, Christopher Millis,  appeared in a Lane County courtroom Thursday, asking for an early release.

Critics are left wondering why Millis is even here.  After all, he’s a violent offender. But he’s at the heart of a controversial law that pits victims advocates against lawmakers aimed at saving the state money.

House Bill 3508 overwhelmingly passed both chambers of the state Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Ted Kulongoski following the 2009 legislative session. Sponsored by House Speaker David Hunt, D-Gladstone, and Senate President Peter Courtney, the bill was written to “suspend certain provisions of Measure 57,” a ballot initiative voters approved in 2008 that mandated sentencing for certain property and drug crimes.

Darren Tweedt, a former Marion County prosecutor who now works for Attorney General John Kroger, said he vividly recalled what Christopher Millis did back in November 2005.

“I’ve never seen that scope of damage in two different cities,” said Tweedt, who on Thursday represented the state in opposing any early release for Millis.

“This man has committed acts of terrorism against Marion County, his neighbors, a policeman. He should not have been released early,” Tweedt said.

And Millis wasn’t. A judge agreed that Millis did not qualify for early release – but some question how and why he even got a hearing.

Victims advocates say he is the prime example of why House Bill 3508, aimed at reducing sentencing requirements for “non-violent offenders,” doesn’t work.

“I think it’s a terrible thing to do to victims, ” said Anne Pratt, with Crime Victims United.

House Bill 3508 was intended to reduce by up to 30 percent the mandatory sentencing requirements imposed by prior voter-approved initiatives. Lawmakers hoped to save money and reduce prison overcrowding as a result, too, and so far it has saved the state millions, according to its supporters.

So how did a violent criminal like Millis get a hearing? His case has raised questions as to whether the law — as written — will meet its goals while also keeping violent offenders imprisoned.

Opponents now have another case to point to as evidence House Bill 3508 is failing.

Demetrius Payton, 34, is a registered sex offender who was released early from prison as a result of this controversial law. But he was just re-arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a woman while she slept.

“Imagine this: You are sleeping in your bed and a complete stranger rapes you,” said Sgt. Mike Geiger with the Portland Police Bureau’s Sex Crimes Unit. “You can’t get more frightening than that.”

State Sen. Chip Shields, the architect of House Bill 3508, did not return five different calls placed by KGW News.

Questions were left with a Shields aide: How was a sex offender released early from prison when he clearly had a violent past? How did a courtroom arsonist manage to receive an early-release hearing?

Those questions were not answered.


Sentencing Commission To Report On Mandatory Minimum Sentencing February 9, 2010

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Nearly 20 years after its groundbreaking report condemning mandatory minimum sentencing, the United States Sentencing  ommission will publish a new mandatory minimum report in 2010. While the Commission has made a mandatory minimum report one of its potential priorities for the last several years, it was a directive from Congress that moved the completion of the report to the forefront. Congress directed the Commission to produce the report, which would, among other things, assess:

FAMM is looking forward to the report and will encourage the Commission to reiterate its strong opposition to mandatory minimums and refrain from making recommendations that would undermine the current advisory guideline system.

Leading the effort is the Commission’s new chair, Judge William K. Sessions, III, who was confirmed on October 29 and will serve until the end of the current Congress in 2010. Judge Sessions has served the Commission as a vice chair since he joined the body in 1999. He has been a strong champion for crack cocaine sentencing reform. Judge Sessions is the Chief Judge of the District of Vermont.
The Commission has sponsored a series of regional hearings designed to mark the 25th anniversary of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 and to review and evaluate federal sentencing policy. They end in January with a final hearing in Phoenix, Arizona (January 20-21). Testimony from judges and practitioners has strongly endorsed the advisory guideline system, while condemning mandatory minimums. To view testimony from the hearings, visit the Sentencing Guidelines page on www.famm.org.


Oregon Starts Moving Illegal Immigrants Out Of Its Prisons February 7, 2010

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After several months of delay, state and federal officials have reached an agreement to deport illegal immigrants with less than six months left on their sentences out of the state’s prisons and into an expedited deportation process.

The memorandum of understanding between Oregon and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration & Customs Enforcement means that inmates who waive all rights to contest a deportation will have their sentences commuted and be quickly deported.
Six sentences were commuted yesterday after the agreement was signed on Monday, officials from Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s office said. The vast majority of the 206 inmates eligible for the early release are from Mexico, state records show.

To be eligible for the early release, inmates must be offenders who’ve not been convicted of any violent, sexual or Measure 11 crimes. The early deportation program was signed into law last summer in Salem as part of a broad cost-saving corrections package. Lawmakers planned to save $2.1 million by transferring 175 prisoners to federal immigration authorities over the biennium.

The state had expected to save $700,000 by Dec. 1 through the early deportation program but a legal glitch in reaching the agreement with the feds held it up. With states across the country strapped by the recession and looking to trim prison costs, the immigration service agreed to work with states across the country to deport criminal offenders before their sentences expire. Several states have deported prisons under the program.

Inmates who participate in the program not only waive their rights to challenge a deportation, they face significant federal prison time if they are caught in the United States again illegally.


Update: Mandatory Minimum Sentences Weaken in New Jersey February 5, 2010

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The following is from Deborah Fleischaker, FAMM State Legislative Affairs Director:

Another one bites the dust…!  That was the refrain going through my head last month as I sat in the gallery of the New Jersey Senate and one senator after another stood up and voted to weaken the drug-free school zone law.

Then yesterday, with the sweep of his pen, Governor Jon Corzine gave it the final push:  The mandatory sentence for a drug crime committed in a drug-free school zone is no longer mandatory!

Now, courts will decide whether the mandatory sentence should be applied based on the facts of the case.  Sounds simple, right?  Well, it should be but until yesterday over 3,000 people a year were sentenced to extra prison time — mandatory minimums —  largely because of where they live.

One of the bill sponsors called this “geographic discrimination at its most basic,” explaining that it created two different sentences for the same drug crime, depending on where the individual lived.  Well, not any longer.

FAMM pursued this victory for six years so it is especially sweet.  We thank all the families, and prisoners, and advocates, and legislators who hung in there with us, fighting for justice.

For all the details about this historic victory, visit www.famm.org.


Oregon Man Freed From Prison Taking Steps Back Into Society February 3, 2010

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Philip Scott Cannon wants people to know he didn’t leave prison on a technicality.
The Salem man recently won his freedom after spending more than 10 years behind bars for the fatal shootings of three people. Cannon, who always maintained he was wrongly convicted, was freed after prosecutors said key evidence needed for a retrial was unavailable. Cannon, 43, said it’s important for people to know his conviction was overturned based on flawed evidence used at his original trial.
“I’ve been getting a bunch of calls from people going on about how I was released on a technicality, and had the state not accidentally lost or destroyed evidence I would be reconvicted,” he told the Statesman Journal newspaper. “The reality is, the reason why the conviction was overturned is because the court determined that their key evidence was no good.”
Cannon was serving a life sentence for the deaths of Jason Kinser, Suzan Osborne and Celesta Graves. Each was shot once in the head at a mobile home in a rural area west of Salem in November 1998. No murder weapon was found. The case against Cannon largely was based on circumstantial evidence and forensic evidence from a technique called comparative bullet lead analysis. The technique was abandoned by the FBI in 2005 after it was discredited in a report by the National Academy of Sciences.
A judge overturned Cannon’s conviction in August after the Oregon attorney general’s office agreed with Cannon’s claim that he was entitled to a new trial because of the flawed forensic evidence. Cannon was transferred to the Polk County jail and prosecutors made plans to retry him. However, those plans were dropped when prosecutors couldn’t locate old evidence.
Cannon criticized Polk County officials for mishandling the evidence and shirking accountability.
“I think John Q. Public is getting a snow job right now,” he said. “Nobody wants to step up. I think the victims’ families should really be outraged at what they’re doing, and I think Oregon taxpayers ought to get a little more bang for their buck, rather than just a bunch of finger pointing.” Polk County District Attorney Stan Butterfield said in a written statement the case is “now an open murder investigation” and he will not comment.
Cannon said he’s been adjusting to life after prison since his Dec. 18 release. “Well, let’s see: I don’t have any kind of ID. I don’t have a driver’s license. I don’t have a job. I’ve got to pay back all the people who helped with my legal fees.”
Cannon said he plans to pursue a federal civil lawsuit and has a long-range plan to earn a college degree. For now, however, he enjoys making up for lost time with loved ones, including his 20-year-old son. “I’ve never been online or owned a computer,” Cannon said. “I’m pretty much a dinosaur.