jump to navigation

As Prison Population Grows, Costs Increase October 2, 2011

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

Flanked by its seven members, Gov. John Kitzhaber said Friday that a blue-ribbon panel has the task of balancing how to keep the worst criminal offenders in prison with how to stem the state’s rising costs of running those prisons.

“At this time, when we are struggling with scarce resources, I think it is important we make sure that every state dollar is spent as effectively and efficiently as possible,” Kitzhaber said at a news conference at the Capitol.

One of the tasks of the Commission on Public Safety, which held its first in-person meeting Friday in Salem, is to look at sentencing practices.

The state adopted sentencing guidelines in 1989. But a series of ballot measures — including mandatory minimum sentences for violent crimes that voters approved as Measure 11 in 1994 — have caused the state’s prison population to more than double from 6,500 to 14,000. The original Measure 11 listed 16 crimes; the current number is 23.

About 40 percent of state inmates are housed for Measure 11 crimes.

“The sentencing guidelines have been trumped by citizen initiatives and legislative referrals,” said Craig Prins, executive director of the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, which is doing the staff work for the panel.

Although the overall crime rate is dropping, Kitzhaber said Oregon is projected to add 2,000 more prison beds by the end of the decade if current trends hold. The latest state forecast, issued Friday, holds close to that projection. But it also said the actual number of inmates is down by about 100 from the previous forecast six months ago — and that legislative action to modify a 2010 ballot initiative will reduce the long-term total by about 360.

According to a Criminal Justice Commission report earlier this year, 58 percent of offenders charged with Measure 11 crimes in 2008 were not convicted of them, although 49 percent were convicted of other crimes — and just 29 percent were convicted of the most serious offense charged under Measure 11.

District attorneys in Oregon’s 36 counties issued their own warning about changes in sentencing.

“Cost appears to be an important consideration of the commission and the Legislature in determining how long sentences should be,” said the statement by Daniel Norris, Malheur County district attorney.

“Projecting prison populations is an inexact science and should not be the grounding factor to change public safety policy. The commission should be cautious in its reliance on historically inexact or inflated data.”

But Dick Withnell of Salem, the commission’s public member, said continuing state budget difficulties compel policy-makers to come up with alternatives.

“Oregonians are counting on us to put partisan labels aside, roll up our sleeves and solve problems,” Withnell said.

Aside from sentencing changes, which will require either two-thirds majorities in the Legislature or voter approval, Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, said the cost of health care — particularly for aging inmates — is something lawmakers ought to deal with.

Of the overall two-year corrections budget of $1.4 billion, Winters said health-care costs accounted for $200 million and growing.

“If we do nothing, that trajectory will compete with the childhood and education dollars the governor is talking about,” said Winters, Senate co-chairwoman of the public safety budget subcommittee.

The commission already has met twice via telephone conference call. It is scheduled under Kitzhaber’s executive order that created it to submit recommendations by Dec. 15. But Chief Justice Paul De Muniz, who leads the commission, said he expects that the commission will ask lawmakers to extend its work.

Three other commission meetings are scheduled in the next few months, including a final meeting Dec. 2 in Salem.

The commission was the idea of former Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who proposed it last year as part of a broad effort to reshape state government in a “reset” report. Kulongoski, who is Kitzhaber’s appointee to the commission, said that there is a reason for the commission other than proposing savings in the state prison budget.

“As a community and a state, we have to invest in those programs and policies that will actually keep people from getting into crime,” said Kulongoski, also a former attorney general and Supreme Court justice.

Oregon Corrections Population Forecast (Oct. 2011)



no comments yet - be the first?