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Advocates Call For New Look To Curb Prison Spending June 4, 2011

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

A crime survivor and advocates for victims’ services had a simple message for Oregon lawmakers at a Capitol news conference this past week: Curb the growth of spending on prisons and use the savings to fund their programs and others, such as counseling, drug and alcohol treatment, and work programs to help the transition of prisoners back into society.

What lawmakers can do now, according to them:

— Continue to delay a 2008 ballot measure that the Legislature crafted as an alternative to a mandatory minimum-sentencing initiative sponsored by Kevin Mannix, the Salem lawyer and former legislator who was chief sponsor of 1994?s Measure 11, which required minimum sentences for specified violent crimes. Voters in 2008 defeated Mannix’s follow-up measure, which would have extended mandatory minimum sentences to property and drug offenders, but passed the legislative alternative (Measure 57) that would have increased sentences for repeat offenders. Lawmakers in 2009, faced with spending cuts, delayed its implementation.

— Amend Measure 73, another initiative Mannix sponsored and voters passed in 2010 to set a 25-year minimum prison term for repeat felony sex offenders and a mandatory stay in jail for repeat drunken driving.

“Smart decisions right now, during this legislative session, will help get Oregon on the right track,” said Kerry Naughton, director of the crime survivors program for the Partnership for Safety and Justice, which has criticized mandatory minimum sentences.

Of the $2.4 billion of the state’s discretionary spending proposed by Gov. John Kitzhaber for public safety and the court system in the next two years, two-thirds goes to just two agencies: Department of Corrections, at $1.4 billion, and Oregon Youth Authority. at a little more than $200 million. (Lawmakers are poised to increase the budget for the latter agency from the governor’s original level, but not nearly enough to continue staffing for all 900 close-custody beds in youth centers.)

Before Measure 11 took effect on April 1, 1995, there were about 6,500 inmates in state prisons, compared with about 14,000 today.

“I think we are getting a poor return on our investment,” said Bob Robison, retired manager of victim services for the Multnomah County Department of Community Justice. ”Criminal justice experts tell us that our overuse of long prison sentences is taking away from other more effective parts of our system.”

He said in addition to programs that help crime victims recover physically and emotionally and receive restitution from those who committed the crimes against them, Oregon needs to bolster drug and alcohol treatment, counseling and work transition programs for the 93 percent of inmates who eventually will be released.

Rebecca Peatow Nickels is executive director of the Portland Women’s Crisis Line, and she said programs such as hers cannot get adequate support because of the large amount that goes to the state prison system. As an example, she said, nearly 20,000 requests for emergency shelter from family violence in Oregon went unmet in 2009 because there was no capacity.

“Our public safety spending is out of balance,” she said. “It’s tome we start rebalancing public safety spending to ensure that every victim who makes the brave step of coming forward for help has access to services that can save her life.”

Arwen Bird of Portland and her sister were victims of a drunken driver who rear-ended their car on Feb. 28, 1993, resulting in a spinal-cord injury to Arwen Bird and a brain injury to her sister. Arwen Bird has been a leading advocate for crime victims — but she has said it is not enough to be tough on those who commit crimes.

“I want to make sure that what happened to my sister and me does not happen to anybody else,” Bird said. “That’s why I want Oregon’s legislators to strengthen our public safety system by making smart cuts to corrections costs and using those savings to fully fund victims’ services. I believe in creating a public-safety system that enables people who are convicted of crimes to take accountability for their actions. Just locking someone up for an arbitrary amount of time does not mean that person will take accountability — and it does not mean that I or anyone else will be safer.”



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