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Initiatives could boost incarcerations in state March 3, 2008

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

Oregon was among the states in the 1990s that led the way toward mandatory minimum prison terms for violent criminals.

But unless voters reject both pending ballot measures in the fall, Oregon will not be among the states lessening penalties on drug dealers, burglars and other property offenders.

A ballot initiative sponsored by Kevin Mannix of Salem and approved by voters as Measure 11 in 1994 imposed minimum sentences on people convicted of 16 violent crimes. The number of affected crimes has risen to 24, three of them added by the Legislature in 2006.

Another ballot initiative, also sponsored by Mannix and submitted for the Nov. 4 election, would impose minimum sentences on first-time property and drug offenders. Mannix already has submitted about 150,000 signatures, 83,000 of which are required to qualify it.

The Legislature’s February session responded by sending voters an alternative that lengthens sentences for larger-volume drug dealers and repeat property offenders. It also ties in drug treatment for many offenders.

“We need treatment as well as incarceration,” said Rep. Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Virtually every major law-enforcement group backed the alternative incorporated in Senate Bill 1087, but Mannix backed away from the negotiations and stuck to his original initiative.

“It’s not like we’re adding anything to the package in exchange for reductions, just do a little less here and there,” Mannix said during the legislative session.

Measure 11, which took effect in April 1995, has led to a near-doubling of the state prison population. The system total at the start of February was 13,532, of which about 40 percent are housed for Measure 11 crimes. Mannix said that those figures are still below projections made in the 1990s.

The Oregon Youth Authority is holding 169 people on Measure 11 crimes. The law allows the agency to hold some young offenders until age 25, when they are transferred to the state prison system.

According to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, Mannix’s property-crimes initiative would add 4,000 to 6,000 inmates at a cost estimated at $256 million to $400 million more in the 2009-11 budget cycle.

The legislative alternative is not cheap, either. According to state estimates, it would add 1,400 to 1,700 inmates to the system from 2009 to 2013. The added cost would be $62 million to the Department of Corrections budget in 2009-11, and $106 million in 2011-13, plus about $40 million more in each cycle for treatment of drug and alcohol addiction.

If both measures pass Nov. 4, the one that gets more votes will take effect.



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