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Four ‘real people’ on how to make Salem work for you January 29, 2012

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Politics is a messy process, full of arcane rules and bureaucracies. It’s about as insider as insider can get. But it’s also true that the people — you — own the system.

The lawmakers in Salem work for you, and it’s up to you to tell them what you want. You can do it — fourth-graders have — but it takes a lot of work and persistence.

To help you, we’re launching a new online tool, a Civic Engagement page, that will be a permanent part of The Oregonian’s Your Government site. The page lays out how to get legislation passed, links to important resources, a map of the Capitol and other information and advice.

We also have four stories about ordinary folks who took causes to the Oregon Legislature. There’s no one way to  make a difference, but the stories we offer today show that government isn’t just for insiders.

As one advocate put it: “This is what we’re supposed to do.”

Here are there stories:

Wendy Davis: Pushed for legislation to help new mothers dealing with postpartum depression.

Anne Marie Gurney: Went to Salem when a bill threatened to shut down her son’s online charter school.

Liz Baxter: Used personal stories to try and persuade lawmakers to pass a bill to improve health equity for communities of color.

Stephanie Buzbee: Led a class of fourth graders through the legislative process to get the Dungeness crab named Oregon’s official crustacean.

You can also watch a video of them in which they give out their best advice for folks new to the system.

How real people lobby the Oregon Legislature How real people lobby the Oregon Legislature Four citizen advocates share their best piece of advice for folks looking to make a difference in Salem. Watch video

NJ Gov. Christie’s Fresh Approach to Drug Offenders

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“No life is disposable.” What an awesome and important message. Especially when it comes from one of the political right’s rising stars as he described his plan for mandatory drug treatment in lieu of prison for first-time offenders.

Last week in his State of the State address, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made the most eloquent and able case for ending our prison-first mentality I’ve ever heard. And after 20 years of working for sentencing reforms, I’ve heard a lot.

Governor Christie spoke of the need for bail reform to keep violent criminals off the streets, something one might expect from a former U.S. Attorney.

No life is disposable. That’s a message I hear every day from prisoners and their families who write to me and say they feel like society has forgotten them. But it is extremely rare to hear it from an elected official who knows the quickest route to an easy ovation is to rail against all offenders. While Christie acknowledged that drug treatment is far less expensive than prison, his pitch was not budgetary. It was moral, it was human, and it was hopeful.

The reason our sentencing policies, especially with regard to nonviolent, drug offenses, remain so punitive is that we have learned to dehumanize people who break the law. They have become The Other, the ones who asked for it and now are going to get it. This lack of empathy is bewildering in light of the fact that almost all of us know someone good who did something bad.

Governor Christie’s words — and plan for nonviolent drug offenders — call all of us to the better angels of our nature. To the addict and abuser, Christie says, “Your life has value… We want to help you, not throw you away.” This is the exact opposite message that prisoners and their families receive from today’s judicial system and bureaucratic prison-industrial complex.

To the rest of us, Christie says, “Everyone deserves a second chance,” a belief praised and preached so often in our society that all we have left to do is practice it. We know the uncomfortable truth that, even with a second chance, not everyone can be saved. Some will refuse or be unable to choose a better path. But for those hoping for a shot at redemption, we should stand ready to help.

I have always believed that significant criminal justice reform could not happen until political conservatives and Republicans agreed that change is needed. This is the “Nixon goes to China” view of American politics. Over the past few years, I have been encouraged by the emergence of strong voices on the right speaking out against irrationally harsh sentencing laws. Governor Christie’s plan for nonviolent offenders — coming as it does from a former U.S. Attorney and Republican statewide leader — has the potential to be a game-changer.

Everyone wants to live in safe houses on safe streets in safe communities. What Christie’s speech teaches is that there are smarter ways to achieve this common objective. But all of our plans must begin with the recognition that no life is disposable.


Mandatory minimum ensnares law-abiding Marine January 27, 2012

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Here’s a good editorial from Julie Stewart:

George Orwell said, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” I have been reminded of that sentiment recently after watching politicians and pundits criticize the imposition of excessive mandatory minimum sentences and then blame everyone and everything except the actual sentencing law that required the excessive punishments.

The latest example of this is playing out in New York City. According to a news report, Ryan Jerome, a 28-year-old former Marine Corps gunner, went to the Big Apple last September with the hope of selling $15,000 worth of jewelry. Mr. Jerome carried a gun to protect his valuable stash. After reading some inaccurate information on the Internet, he mistakenly believed that he could carry the firearm in New York because he was licensed to carry one in his home state of Indiana.

The trip to New York was Mr. Jerome’s first and he decided to go sightseeing. He tried leaving his gun in the hotel safe but it was full, so he brought it with him. When he arrived at the Empire State Building, Mr. Jerome approached a security guard to ask where he should check his gun. The security officer called the police. Mr. Jerome was arrested and forced to spend the next two days in jail.

Because of New York’s mandatory minimum sentencing law for guns, Mr. Jerome faces a minimum prison sentence of 3 1/2 years. He could receive as much as 15 years. He also happens to be the latest of many tourists who have been arrested for unknowingly violating New York’s tough gun law. Football fans will recognize this law as the same one that sent New York Jets wide receiver Plaxico Burress to prison.

The case has generated some buzz in the blogosphere. Gun rights supporters want the Manhattan district attorney to decline prosecution. Other commentators note that Mr. Jerome is a former Marine and sought to comply with the law by researching it before his trip. As Mr. Jerome told the New York Post, “If I had known, I never would have brought that gun with me, no matter how much gold I had.”

Perhaps the prosecutor should exercise discretion in this case and not bring charges, but the reason the stakes are so high is because the law carries a mandatory minimum sentence that certainly does not fit people like Ryan Jerome. Without the mandatory minimum, a dutiful prosecutor’s insistence on charging every technical violation of the law could be tempered by a judge’s willingness to consider the unique facts and circumstances of each case and defendant, and to fashion an appropriate sentence. But a mandatory minimum sentence eliminates any judicial discretion.

In many ways, the Jerome case reminds me of the prosecution of U.S. border agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. They were sentenced in 2006 to more than a decade in prison after a jury found them guilty of shooting an unarmed illegal immigrant and covering it up. The agents’ long sentences were required by a federal mandatory minimum sentencing law. Nevertheless, members of Congress hauled the prosecutor who tried the case to Washington for a grilling. They couldn’t believe he had the audacity to use the law they had written. Seeing that the judge had no discretion, many members of Congress then asked President George W. Bush to intervene, which he ultimately did by commuting the agents’ sentences.

The problem with these cases (and thousands of others just like them) is that one-size-fits-all-sentencing laws do not deliver the kind of individualized justice that Americans have a right to expect. Not all crimes and offenders are alike. That doesn’t mean New York needs two laws for every offense – i.e., one gun law to prosecute armed robbers and another to prosecute inadvertent offenders such as Ryan Jerome. But it does mean politicians should refrain from inserting mandatory minimum penalties into their laws since they cannot foresee every situation to which they might be applied.

Ramos and Compean were relatively lucky. Perhaps Mr. Jerome will get lucky, too, and the Manhattan D.A. will find some way to resolve the case without Mr. Jerome going to jail. But it’s not reasonable to expect that presidents and governors are going to be able (or willing) to save every unforeseen defendant from being saddled with an ill-fitting mandatory sentence. The only way to make sure that the time fits the crime is to get rid of mandatory minimum sentences and let judges consider all the relevant factors in crafting individualized sentences.


Portland January Action Team Meeting January 9, 2012

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The Partnership for Safety and Justice will be holding their next Portland Action Team Meeting on Monday, January 9th! These meetings are a chance for members and activists to get together and build community while enhancing their advocacy skills.

We’ll be going over some significant changes at PSJ that have resulted from our strategic planning, as well as talking about our recent youth justice victory. We’ll also be discussing our plans for the upcoming legislative session in February, because we’ll the help of our members soon!

The Commission on Public Safety delivered their report on sentencing to Governor Kitzhaber on December 29th. The recommendations could mean big changes for Oregon’s criminal justice system, and we’ll weigh in with our thoughts. We’ll also be asking you to participate in an activity that has worked well for our allies – calling the state legislature during our meeting to leave messages about the importance of the Commission’s findings. Members will be given some talking points, but please come prepared by looking up your representatives so that you know who to call beforehand. If you have time, take a look at the report itself.

Please contact Naivasha if you’re interested in attending!


January 9, 2012 – 5:30pm

825 NE 20th Ave, Suite 250


Portland, OR

Contact Info:



FBI Updates Definiton of Rape January 6, 2012

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The Obama administration on Friday announced a significant expansion of the FBI’s definition of rape, which will now cover several forms of sexual assault and include male rape.

Justice Department officials said that the revision would make reporting of the crime more accurate and would provide a better understanding of its effects on victims.

Since 1929, rape has been defined as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” That definition, which included only men having sex with women without their consent, excluded other forms of sexual assault, such as oral penetration and rape of men.

The new wording, announced by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., covers those and several other forms of sexual assault. It will be used in the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Report, which draws on data submitted by local police departments, and will likely prompt a rise in reported rapes nationwide, law enforcement officials said.

Although most state rape statutes already contain a broader definition of the crime, officials said the federal revision holds deep significance, since the FBI’s reports are often synonymous in the public mind with crime rates. The FBI data is also used by policymakers to understand crime and propose anti-crime initiatives.

“This send a powerful message that … rape is rape,’’ Susan B. Carbon, director of the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women, said in a conference call with reporters. “And it’s rape even if you’re a man; it’s rape even if you are raped with an object and even if you were too drunk to consent.’’

Administration officials said the change, which will take several years to fully implement, was driven primarily Vice President Biden — author of the Violence Against Women Act when he was in the Senate — and the White House Council on Women and Girls.

Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Obama and the council’s chairwoman, said the revised definition is “a major policy change that will lead to more accurate reporting and a far more complete understanding of this devastating crime.’’

An FBI police advisory board recently recommended the change, which had been pushed by supporters of womens’ rights. FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III signed off last month.

In 2010, there were an estimated 84,767 rapes reported nationwide under the FBI’s current definition. Officials could not specify how much they expect the reporting of rapes to increase.

The new wording drew immediate praise from Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and from advocates for women.

“All victims of these horrendous crimes deserve justice and should have access to the comprehensive services that will help them rebuild their lives,” Leahy said. “This updated, more inclusive, definition will bring added emphasis to sexual assault, which often goes unreported, and as a result, unprosecuted.”

Calling the change “a big win for women,’’ Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said, “With a modern, broader definition, FBI Uniform Crime Report statistics will finally show the true breadth of this violence that affects so many women’s lives.”


Oregon’s Criminal Sentencing Policy: Reform? Or Rebuild? January 2, 2012

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A report on sentencing in Oregon’s criminal justice system was delivered to Gov. Kitzhaber Dec. 29. The Commission on Public Safety started work last August, charged with looking at how to streamline the state’s $1.4 billion corrections budget without hurting public safety. The report recommends that the commission continue its work through 2012. It also recommends changes that could mean shorter sentences for some.

Experts who spoke Dec. 9 at a Multnomah County conference on children and teens in the criminal justice system, argued for a complete policy rethink.

We need to take a more holistic approach,” said Judge Patricia Martin. “What if we thought of juvenile court like an emergency triage.”

Under Measure 11, Oregon teens who commit serious crimes are charged and sentenced as adults. And DA’s around the state have used their powers under Measure 11 to lengthen youth sentences. Currently more than one in 10 of those charged with Measure 11 crimes, and one in five of those charged with Robbery II are teens, resulting in 100 – 200 more imprisoned young people (aged 15- 23). But that approach found no support from Martin and other experts, who said harsh sentences do nothing to help troubled kids become responsible adults.

One Family One Judge

Judge Martin said families should be assigned one judge who deals with every problem facing that family, whether the issue is neglect, abuse or delinquent behavior.

“Our judicial system is segregated. The problem is my families and kids don’t come segregated.”

Juvenile courts should be able to call on experts in mental health, education, drug treatment: whatever a family needs to deal with all of its problems, and legal issues in one place.

“And if we can have drug courts, why not mental health treatment courts?” she said.

A juvenile and family judge in Cook County, Ill., Martin is President of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. She has seen thousands of kids and families go through the court system. Most of those young people would become productive citizens with the right help, she says, but the justice system sets them up to fail.

“We shouldn’t leave them with convictions,” said Judge Patricia Martin. “Why haven’t we thought about automatic expungement for juveniles?

“Do you know how many kids in child protection can’t get a job because they have a conviction?”

United States of Incarceration?

A staggering one in three Americans have been arrested by the time they are 25,  a new federal study reported this month. The crimes? Most common are arson, disorderly behavior, vandalism, burglary and theft.

Researchers said the figures may reflect a criminal justice system that has become increasingly inflexible and focused on punishment to the detriment of prevention.

International studies show the United States jails more people than any other Western democracy: 714 for every 100,000 people, compared to 96 for Germany, 91 for France and 142 for Britain which has the highest rate in Europe.

At the Dec. 9 conference, Judge Martin condemned what she called “fake” crimes. A boy in a state institution took a candy bar from the storeroom, she said, and was charged with trespassing on state property and robbery. Consequences? Yes, she said. Criminal charges? No.

“It just doesn’t make sense. We have to be smarter about how we help kids and families.”

Safety and Joy Can Prevent Crime

Jonathan Cloud, a delinquency prevention specialist, said brain development research should guide policy. Children are hardwired to mirror the adults around them, and the experiences they have, he said. Comfort and safety are essential and so are joy and pleasure.

“The best things you all can do, is construct experiences that turn the brain on and help kids understand what they can do.”

Cloud said that young people from their teens to mid-20s are hardwired to take risks, challenge authority and seek excitement. Breaking rules and making mistakes have to be understood as efforts to find their own unique path in life.

“The kids you’re working with don’t have a lot of positive “files” to draw from: The guy down the street who beats people up; the drug dealer on the corner; whatever is on late night TV. A kid in domestic violence will have the neuro track for aggression locked in.

“I want to load his file cabinet up with tons and tons of possible files to draw from, so that when he gets to 14 or 15 he has a lot of successful experiences to draw from.

“You can punish and contain all you want, but it adds nothing to the file system.”

Early Intervention Needed

Hill Walker, a researcher from the University of Oregon, called for more investment in prevention. Children with problems can be identified very early, he said. The research shows that when families get support from pre-kindergarten through 3rd grade, children don’t turn to crime.

“We wait and wait and wait to identify these children, while in meantime they are experiencing school failure and all kinds of chaos,” Walker said.

“If we could implement well half of what we know, we could radically improve the lives of students.”

The Commission on Public Safety weighed the costs of Measure 11 and other sentencing guidelines as well as its impact on young offenders, adult offenders and crime victims.