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Early-Release Law Creates Anxiety October 13, 2009

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

A new Oregon law, designed to prune prison spending by shaving extra time off sentences for nonviolent offenders, is causing angst for prisoners and massive headaches for county court managers.

Thousands of sentence-reduction cases are flooding into the courts, piling onto crowded dockets.

Acting on the new law, the state Department of Corrections has determined that 4,169 inmates in Oregon’s 14,000-inmate prison system are eligible for enhanced “earned time” sentence reductions.

By last week, 2,492 of the 4,169 cases had been referred to county courts throughout the state for resentencing consideration. The remainder will be sent to the courts within a few months, officials said.

Amid a logjam of cases, some inmates fear that potential early prison departures will get stalled or derailed.

“The anticipation and drama level in the prison has created such a buzz that tempers are beginning to rise and anxiety is becoming commonplace,” Brandon Lawrence, an inmate at the Santiam Correctional Institution in Salem, wrote in a letter to the Statesman Journal.

At issue is the 2009 Legislature’s expansion of what is known as earned release time in Oregon prisons. Earned release time refers to the controversial practice of shortening prison sentences for offenders who demonstrate good behavior and participate in rehabilitation programs.

Legislators increased the maximum amount of time that nonviolent offenders can whittle off their sentences through good behavior from 20 percent to 30 percent. The idea was to save about $6 million in reduced lockup costs in the 2009-11 budget period and allocate the money to other needs in the state’s general-fund budget.

Proponents of the new law say that expanded earned time serves as a powerful motivational tool that gives inmates added incentive to obey prison rules and take part in rehabilitation programs.




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