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AG Ellen Rosenblum Signals Support for Sentencing Reforms September 11, 2012

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , 2 comments

Property and violent crime fell by 25 percent between 2000 and 2010. Yet, unless state corrections policies change, Oregon is on track to add 2,000 more prison beds over the next decade, at a cost of $600 million. That’s on top of the existing $1.4 billion corrections budget. Last Saturday, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum signaled she is prepared to back major revisions to sentencing guidelines, including those mandated by voters through Measure 11 in 1994 and Measure 57 in 2008.  “Nothing – Nothing is sacred,” Rosenblum told a statewide gathering of the Partnership for Safety and Justice in Keizer Oregon, Sept. 8.   “All of our state’s felony sentencing structure has to be on the table for review.”

Sentencing is under Review
Calling the rising costs unsustainable, Gov. Kitzhaber last year tasked Oregon’s Commission on Public Safety with reviewing sentencing policy. The commission is expected to issue recommendations towards the end of 2012, with draft legislation expected in 2013.

Research by the Pew Center for the States, found more than 50 percent of the expected rise in Oregon’s prison population would constitute people convicted of property crimes (36 percent) and drugs charges (17 percent). The same study shows that 66 percent of people imprisoned in 2011 were rated as low or medium risk, up from 55 percent in 2005.

A Focus on Prevention
Rosenblum contrasted spiraling prison spending with cuts to victims’ services. More than 20,600 requests for emergency shelter from victims of domestic violence were turned down in 2011, for example.
“We need to invest in life-saving services for victims, not only because it’s smart spending, but because it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “We need to lake a long hard look on how we’re spending our public safety dollars. Let’s begin with a focus on victims’ services, re-entry programs and substance abuse treatment.

“In my view we should all be focused on shifting our public safety spending to prevention-based strategies, such as victims’ services, addiction treatment and recovery, and re-entry programs,” she said. “After all last year 4500 inmates were released from prison. Where are they all going? Are we taking care of them and making sure they aren’t going to be back in prison in six months?
“Evidence-based law enforcement strategies, prison programs, including mental health treatment and vocational programming: We need to prepare people to succeed when they return to the community. We need to help people rejoin society and not live a lifetime on the fringe.”

Rosenblum defeated Dwight Holton in the Democratic primary election. She was appointed by Gov. Kitzhaber to serve out the term of AG John Kroger, who resigned June 29 and is now president of Reed College. Rosenblum will face Republican AG nominee, James Buchal, in the November election.

Campaign: “Stand Strong for Safety and Savings
About 60 people attended the Partnership for Safety and Justice event. The group brings together victims of crime, people who have committed crimes, and their families, to advocate for a prevention-focused approach to public safety. The group has just launched a new campaign called “Stand Strong for Safety and Savings.”  It will seek to end mandatory minimum sentences, give judges more discretion, and re-focus spending on programs that have been proved to reduce offending, such as prevention and after-prison programs.

PSJ also seeks to mandate that young people are placed in youth facilities not in adult jails. Some counties, for example, Multnomah and Clackamas, already have this policy, but in other parts of the state, youth routinely end up in adult prisons.  “We have an incredible opportunity in the next 10 months to pass historic changes to the criminal justice system, David Rogers, PSJ’s executive director, told supporters. “We could begin to see a much smarter approach to reducing victimization and crime.”

Sentences are Now 36 Percent Longer
National research by the Pew Center has looked at the costs and benefits of lengthy sentences. “Time Served: the High Cost, Low Return of Longer Prison Terms,” crunched numbers from across the country and found prison sentences have increased by 36 percent.  Longer sentences have contributed to the decline in crime during the 1990’s, the report says, and probably can be credited for between a quarter and a third of the drop.

“But criminologists and policy makers increasingly agree that we have reached a “tipping point” with incarceration, where additional imprisonment will have little if any effect on crime…
“Research clearly shows there is little return on public dollars for locking up low-risk offenders for increasingly long periods of time and, in the case of certain non-violent offenders, there is little return on locking them up at all.” The report notes that the 17 states which have cut prison sentences, also have seen crime fall.  And the researchers point out that we now have evidence-based programs that prevent and reduce criminal behavior.



FAMM Had A Busy August September 3, 2012

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , add a comment

Here’s an update from FAMM:

August is traditionally a very slow time in Washington D.C., especially in an election year. Members of Congress return home to meet with constituents, campaign for election, and take vacations with their families. You’d think FAMM staff could relax in August, reveling in the quiet of the city. But you’d be wrong. August is the perfect time to get the attention of congressional staffers who have time on their hands, for a change, since their bosses are home.

This August, FAMM’s government affairs counsel, Molly Gill, made a point of visiting the offices of a dozen members of Congress who serve on the House or Senate Judiciary Committees. Her purpose was to remind them of FAMM’s priorities and ask for their help. Members and their staff are busy with lots of different issues so it’s important to get in front of them as often as possible and remind them why mandatory minimum laws do not work. Molly was joined in several meetings by FAMM’s VP and general counsel, Mary Price, who also made good use of the quiet month to talk to key players at the Justice Department, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and the U.S. Judicial Conference.

All of these meetings are important for us to gather intelligence about what others are thinking and planning – and to let them know our ideas. While it’s true that most people in Washington are focused on the election, we want to be ready to hit the ground running no matter who wins.
The presidential election went into full swing in August with the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Of particular interest to me was the fact that the drug war was not mentioned in the Republican platform on crime this year but it was four years ago, as explained in this excellent article. Also, a number of the prime-time speakers who graced the stage during the three-day summit have led the way for sentencing reform in their states. Governors John Kasich (OH), Chris Christie (NJ), and Mary Fallin (OK) have all signed sentencing reform bills and made positive statements about why reform is needed.
Former governor Mike Huckabee (AR) has acknowledged that we cannot incarcerate our way out of the drug war, and U.S. Senator Rand Paul (KY) is our Republican champion in the Senate for blocking passage of mandatory minimums. So, even though the Republican platform on crime still calls for mandatory minimums, it’s clear that not every Republican is in lock-step with the platform. Check out this short YouTube video of great quotes about sentencing from some of the convention speakers.

And in case anyone needs to be reminded that sentencing reform changes lives, listen to what we’re hearing from Massachusetts. Remember, last month the Governor signed a bill into law that included many of our sentencing reforms. Scores of prisoners have been released early as a result of the reforms and now we’re feeling their love… Here’s a sampling:

FAMM is wonderful and I respect the people that are behind it, because if we didn’t have this I wouldn’t have hope to one day get my Dad home.

My family is so excited we cannot believe it. Where would we be without your efforts? We cannot thank you enough!!!!!!

This will hopefully give my loved one a 2½ year advancement on finding work and going back to college – makes a huge difference for someone that has been away from society for 8 years since the young age of 22.

Thank you again for all of your time, work and effort – you have made a tremendous contribution to the lives and spirits of those serving mandatory minimum sentences.

And that is why there are no lazy summer days at FAMM: The harder we work, the more lives we can improve. And what can be more satisfying, really?

Happy Labor Day –


Julie Stewart
FAMM President