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Oregon Sentencing Reform Plans June 30, 2010

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“The time is now to find more effective and sustainable ways to use the hundreds of millions of dollars we spend on incarceration,” Gov. Ted Kulongoski said Friday as he called for modifying Measure 11, Oregon’s strict voter-approved sentencing law for violent offenders.

“This does not mean that we stop holding criminals accountable, or shorten sentences of violent offenders. I won’t tolerate that, and neither will the citizens of Oregon. But there are actions we can take to reduce some sentences for some offenders without sacrificing public safety, and ways to divert offenders from prison. These options must be explored.”

He also called for a continuing freeze on Measure 57, a voter-approved ballot measure that imposed tougher sentences on repeat property offenders.

To rein in prison spending, Kulongoski and his Reset Cabinet recommend:

-Selectively adjusting Measure 11 sentences “to provide sufficient protection for the public, but lower the overall impact on prison beds.”

-Creating “a modern system of uniform, transparent and proportional sentencing guideline practices that optimizes use of the most expensive resource — prison.”

-Placing an indefinite freeze on prison construction and opening of new prison beds.

-Adopting the federal prison system’s policy of granting 15 percent earned-time sentence reductions for inmates. As proposed, all prison inmates except those serving life sentences would be eligible for these sentence reductions.

-Giving the Department of Corrections temporary authority to allow some offenders to serve the final year of their sentence in home detention.



Budget Cuts: Governor Rejected Prison Closures Because He Didn’t Want To Free 1,000 Inmates June 29, 2010

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Gov. Ted Kulongoski nixed a budget-cutting plan to close three state prisons because he wasn’t willing to use his power to commute the sentences of hundreds of convicted felons, a spokesman for the governor said Thursday.

“He’s simply not willing to release close to 1,000 inmates,” Rem Nivens said.

Instead, Kulongoski plans to ask the Legislative Emergency Board to tap into a reserve fund to cover the $15.3 million cost of keeping the three prisons open for the rest of the 2009-2011 budget cycle, which ends June 30, 2011, Nivens said.

The governor also will ask the board to allocate more than $3 million to forestall proposed cuts in a community corrections program providing supervision of low-level felons, he said.

The emergency board is made up of legislative leaders and budget writers who deal with budget problems when the Legislature isn’t in session. The state currently has about $50 million set aside in emergency and reserve funds.

Nivens described the planned $18 million “add back” to the Corrections Department budget as “a significant request.”

When Kulongoski will ask the board to approve the spending package hasn’t been determined. “We’re going to discuss with leadership when to make the official request,” Nivens said.

Two weeks ago, Kulongoski ordered across-the-board 9 percent state agency spending cuts to erase a projected $577 million shortfall in the state’s budget.

To meet its $52 million target, the Department of Corrections proposed closing three prisons: Mill Creek Correctional Facility and Santiam Correctional Institution, both in Salem, and the Powder River Correctional Facility in Baker City. Shut-down savings were estimated at $15.3 million.

Prison officials called for closing prisons because they had no other options to save large sums, said Jennifer Black, a Corrections Department spokeswoman.

“To get to that big of a reduction, we needed to close prisons,” Black said, referring to the $52 million amount. “The majority of our budget is in running prisons 24 hours a day. You just can’t get there without that kind of reduction.”



Graphic Booklet Sent Home With Portland Schoolkids Shocks Parents June 26, 2010

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Joe Alvaro’s 10-year-old son generally knows what sex is.

But the Southeast Portland father wasn’t prepared for the questions from his son after the boy finished classes a week ago at Llewellyn Elementary School. Among them: What’s sodomy?

Turns out the fourth-grader came across the term, as well as descriptions of sexual abuse and other crimes in a 24-page comic-style booklet put together by the Portland Police Bureau and handed out to all the students, kindergarten through fifth grade, at Llewellyn.

The “Operation Safe Summer” brochure, distributed annually through Portland Public Schools to all district schools, mostly includes information about summer programs for children at the Oregon Zoo, Portland Parks and Recreation and other activities.

But this year, the Police Bureau included a new feature on the back page, which shows a buxom female superhero trumpeting “Measure 11 An Oregon Law.” The sheet includes a listing of crimes, such as manslaughter, unlawful sexual penetration and sodomy, that could cause juveniles ages 15 or older to be tried as adults. It also explains some violations, such as “Sexual Abuse 1: You are baby-sitting (sic) or playing with a small child. You have sexual contact with them by touching their penis, vaginal area, or anus, or by making them touch you in those same places. You will go to prison and could be there for 6 years and 3 months.”

Alvaro said his son was confused about what the information and the words meant.

“He wasn’t sure if they were saying he could go to jail about just the whole concept of touching somebody else,” he said. “These are all new concepts for him.”

His ex-wife, Kathleen Kramer, said the inclusion bothered her as well.

“It’s such a controversial thing to even teach sex in schools,” Kramer said. “I’d much rather it be in an educated manner” as opposed to using threatening wording about criminal acts, she said.

Portland police spokeswoman Detective Mary Wheat apologized for the inclusion, saying that the department originally wanted something to inform parents about Measure 11, although the end result went to kids. She did not immediately know how much the brochure cost to produce.

“Sometimes you just have to say we could have done this better,” she said, adding that she understood why parents would be concerned.

It is unclear how many schools distributed the booklets. After parents complained, the school district has since advised principals to recycle the brochures in favor of revised fliers, said Matt Shelby, a Portland Public Schools spokesman.

Shelby said the material does seem inappropriate for younger children. But he said it’s up to the principals of each school about whether and how to distribute it. Because the publication goes out each year, some principals may not have taken a look at the last page, he said.

Steve Powell, the principal for Llewellyn K-5, did not return several phone calls and an e-mail seeking comment.

The district itself does not usually review content that originates from a city agency, Shelby said. “I think we think that … the Police Bureau would understand age-appropriate content.”

But he did add he expects “there will be some follow-up.”


Former Oregon Corrections Officer Files $1 Million Lawsuit June 24, 2010

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A former Oregon corrections officer, recently convicted of assaulting an inmate in 2008, has filed a $1 million lawsuit against the state alleging that he was wrongfully fired from his job at a Salem prison.

Jamin Dumas claims that he was fired from the Oregon State Correctional Institution in 2009 because he raised complaints to prison managers about unsafe working conditions and racial discrimination at OSCI, an 890-inmate medium-security prison in southeast Salem.

The Marion County civil suit says Dumas probably prevented a prison riot in May 2008 when he subdued a defiant inmate who was shouting racial slurs at Dumas, who is black, and nearby black inmates, in a prison housing unit.

The suit alleges that Dumas blocked a punch thrown at him by the inmate, then put the prisoner into a “full nelson” hold and forced him to sit at a desk until a supervising officer arrived. It says Dumas followed proper procedures in defusing a volatile situation.

The suit alleges that prison officials treated Dumas “as though he was guilty of something” and used the incident as “a pretext for terminating him.”

Dumas, a corrections corporal who had worked for the DOC for 19 years, was placed on leave during a state police investigation of the incident. He received a letter March 9, 2009, notifying him that he was being fired. About the same time, prosecutors charged him with official misconduct and second-degree assault, a Measure 11 crime that carries a sentence of five years in prison.

Dumas waived his right to a jury trial. After a two-day bench trial in December, Marion County Circuit Judge Albin Norblad found Dumas guilty of both charges.

At a sentencing hearing in January, Norblad said he remained convinced that Dumas assaulted the prisoner, breaking his collarbone.

“You kind of broke and did the wrong thing,” he told Dumas.

However, Norblad said the wrongdoing fell short of the punishment called for by Measure 11.

“This case is not one that belongs in Measure 11,” he said. “Measure 11 is not in proportion to what he did.”

In deviating from Measure 11, Norblad sentenced Dumas to two years probation.

The civil suit says that Norblad “relied upon the testimony of the inmate in concluding that plaintiff had lost his temper at being called ‘nigger’ and attacked the inmate.”

It asserts that the judge, in finding Dumas guilty, rejected the testimony of experts “who stated that plaintiff’s actions were not only wholly appropriate under the circumstances but that plaintiff followed his training in dealing with this situation.”

The suit portrays Dumas as an outspoken whistleblower who was unjustly fired.

It asserts that he “had gone to management many times regarding the racially hostile working environment” at OSCI.

“This hostility was not limited to DOC employees but extended to black inmates who were treated in a discriminatory manner as to rule enforcement and basic civility, as well as being routinely passed up for jobs inside the institution,” it says.

During his prison employment, Dumas was victimized two times by inmate assaults, according to the suit. It says he complained to management “several times about the unsafe practice of having one officer run a housing unit” occupied by more than 100 inmates.

The suit maintains that Dumas raised complaints again at a meeting about two weeks before the May 2008 incident, citing unsafe working conditions, failure to hire and promote black employees and the refusal of prison management to take action.

It says prison managers fired him “at least in part due to his race and his complaints of racial discrimination.

“Plaintiff further contends that his running for union office, where he would have been a more vocal advocate of racial equality, was a factor in DOC’s actions against him and specifically in his termination.”

As a result of being fired, the suit says, Dumas has suffered severe mental and emotional distress, as well as insomnia, depression, feelings of isolation and symptoms of physical illness.

Dumas was 60 when he was fired, according to the suit.

“The action of the DOC in terminating plaintiff, taking away his ability to support his family, in an economic climate which provides limited employment opportunities to a man of plaintiff’s age, is especially heinous,” it says.

Jennifer Black, a DOC spokeswoman, declined to comment on the suit.

“The Department of Corrections does not comment on pending litigation,” she said.


National Call-in Day June 23, 2010

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If you haven’t made your call as part of the national call-in day for S, 714, the National Criminal Justice Commission Act, the only person you need to call is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), (202) 224-3135.

Why? Because Majority Leader Reid and Senator Durbin heard FAMM members loud and clear! We’ve heard that they got the message and know you support S. 714, the National Criminal Justice Commission Act. Way to go! If you have already made your calls, thank you!

Again, if you haven’t made any calls yet, the only person you need to call is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), (202) 224-3135.


I am calling to ask the Senator to cosponsor and support immediate Senate passage of S. 714, the National Criminal Justice Commission Act, because:

* Thousands of offenders receive lengthy mandatory terms in federal prison. These sentences have driven an increase in incarceration, stretching our prisons beyond their limits.
* The current incarceration rate comes at a high cost to taxpayers, families and communities.
* The proposed commission would review the criminal justice system, identify programs and policies that promote public safety, and urge reform of policies and practices that aren’t working.
* The result will be a more effective and just criminal justice system.
* Thank you!


Prisons Closures, Elderly Aid Cut-Off Top List Of Proposed Oregon Budget Cuts June 9, 2010

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Among the proposed budget cuts released today are possible closure of three minimum-security prisons.

Three Oregon prisons would close and about 1,000 minimum-security prisoners would be let go, under a proposed set of state budget cuts released this morning.

Also on the chopping block: Oregon Project Independence, which helps seniors stay out of nursing homes by providing them in-home care; a state program that delivers meals to 240 seniors and people with disabilities; and a program that subsidizes daycare costs for low-income parents, affecting about 5,000 people.

These are among the options outlined by state agencies, who have been ordered by Gov. Ted Kulongoski to slice 9 percent from the final 12 months of their two-year budgets. Kulongoski ordered the cuts after state economists projected a $577 million shortfall in the 2009-11 budget.

If the scenarios of freed prisoners and abandoned elderly seem familiar that’s because they are. Similar proposals have been made in recent years as state revenues continue to plummet.

It’s unclear at this point whether this time the cuts will stick, or if Kulongoski or the Legislature will find another method for balancing the budget. For example, closing prisons requires either legislative action or special commutation of inmates by the governor.

“The governor received these plans at the same time the public did,” said his spokeswoman Anna Richter Taylor.

In a news release, Kulongoski called the list of cuts, which have come from every agency, “the next step in this difficult process” of rebalancing the current budget. “There are no good answers and no easy solutions.”

Also unclear early is how many state workers face layoffs under the proposed list of cutbacks. Many agencies, such as the state police, are leaving positions unfilled, but not issuing pink slips. State police would delay hiring 24 recruits, which also will postpone its goal of providing 24-hour patrols on state highways.

In other agencies, layoffs are unavoidable. School districts, which must find $250 million in cost savings, already have announced some layoffs and shortened school years.

Kulongoski and other state leaders continue to hold out hope of a federal bailout. Congress is considering two measures that could provide hundreds of millions of dollars to public schools and health programs.