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Measure 11 Criticized In Report February 12, 2011

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

Measure 11, Oregon’s mandatory minimum prison sentencing law, hasn’t delivered what it promised, according to a draft state report that is raising the hackles of crime-victim advocates.

The report, released to people outside state government earlier than a majority of the seven-member Oregon Criminal Justice Commission wanted, concluded that the law has shifted from judges to prosecutors the authority to sentence criminals. And, in spite of proponents’ claims, the law hasn’t led to consistent sentencing and doesn’t deter people from committing crimes, according to the study, written by Criminal Justice Commission Director Craig Prins.

Prison sentence reform advocates praised the report for its analysis of Measure 11, which establishes mandatory minimum sentences for violent and sex crimes, including murder, manslaughter, rape, kidnapping and robbery.

But crime-victim advocates said the study is not the impartial analysis expected from a state agency.

“One need read no further than the first page to understand this report is a one-sided attack that takes every opportunity to amplify perceived problems with Measure 11, while glossing over minor details like the fact that Oregon’s violent crime rate has decreased by an astounding 51.2 percent since Measure 11 went into effect,” Howard Rodstein, a policy analyst with Oregon-based Crime Victims United advocacy group, wrote in a rebuttal to the report.

Crime Victims United does not believe that Measure 11 is solely responsible for the drop in violent crime, Rodstein wrote, “but we do believe that it made a substantial contribution to that decrease.”

The controversy comes as elected officials continue to evaluate the impact of mandatory sentencing on the state budget. By increasing incarceration, mandatory sentencing can drive up state prison costs.

To curb prison spending, Gov. John Kitzhaber has proposed revising or delaying implementation of Measure 57 sentencing laws passed by voters in 2008. Kitzhaber also wants to revise last year’s Measure 73, which sets longer sentences for repeat drunk drivers and sex offenders.

He wants the Legislature to review the mandatory minimum sentences imposed by Measure 11 for juvenile offenders older than 15.

Measure 11 has been heavily debated ever since voters approved it to take effect in 1995.

Commission Chairman Darryl Larson, a retired Lane County Circuit Court judge, said he’s disappointed that controversy has erupted before the commission has completed the report.

But any criticism of Measure 11 is controversial, he said. “It’s like the third rail of Oregon government. Even if you have the temerity to talk about Measure 11, you go to the mattresses and start World War III. It’s just ridiculous.”

Marion County District Attorney Walt Beglau, a commission member and president of the Oregon District Attorneys Association, distributed the draft report, Larson said. “I presume he wanted feedback from his compatriots” about the report, he said.

Beglau could not be reached for comment Friday.

The commission released a copy to The Register-Guard in response to a public records request from the paper.

With regard to juvenile offenders, the commission’s study said that, given the seriousness of the crimes, most of the 250 to 350 juvenile offenders between the ages of 15 and 24 incarcerated by the Oregon Youth Authority would have been locked up anyway. However, Measure 11 lengthened their time in custody, the report said.

Commission analysts looked at Measure 11 sentencing trends from 1995 to 2008. During that time, only 28 percent of people indicted for a Measure 11 crime were convicted of the most serious charge against them and received the mandatory sentence required by the law, the study found.

In the remaining 72 percent of cases, prosecutors agreed to plea bargains or sought convictions on lesser charges that did not require the mandatory minimum sentences, the report said. Suspects may be more inclined to accept plea deals when they face the threat of stiff Measure 11 sentences.

Measure 11 “shifted control of the sentencing process from the judge to the prosecutor, but gave no guidance as to what sentence was appropriate,” the report said.

The study also challenged the Measure 11 claim that the law would deter criminals.

“If deterrence works, it eliminates the need for the punishment because the criminal act is prevented,” the report said. “That two thousand offenders are indicted every year for (Measure) 11 crimes is an indication that it did not work in those cases.”

But the study also said Measure 11 led to much lower demand for new jail beds than was originally predicted.

Upon passage of the law, state officials estimated that more than 9,000 additional jail beds would be needed to handle the growth in the number of inmates.

But the sentencing guidelines have only increased the prison population by about 2,900 inmates, the analysis said, mainly because prosecutors are using their discretion to plead down a greater than expected percentage of cases to non-mandatory sentences.

Measure 11 was supposed to be applied uniformly across Oregon, but the study showed disparities in how the law is used in urban and rural counties.

The state’s five most populous counties including Lane, convicted a higher percentage of offenders of the most serious Measure 11 crimes than the remaining 31 counties, the report said.

Larson, who was a Lane County prosecutor before becoming a judge, said he regrets the release of the draft report because the commission has not completed its editing of the document.

The facts and figures of the report are complete, but more work needs to be done on how the findings are portrayed in the executive summary, Larson said.

The report won’t be complete until the end of March, he said.

“This is going to be a valuable report for policy-makers and the people that are thinking about Measure 11,” Larson said.

David Rogers, executive director of Partners for Safety & Justice, a sentencing-reform group, said the report is useful because it shows inconsistencies in the law.

“It’s kind of ironic that Measure 11 was billed as a being a consistent force for justice, but there is nothing consistent about how it’s been implemented and how charges and sentences are distributed across the state,” he said.



1. Zoraida_zzz - April 18, 2011

We need to ask Mr Rodstein how much violent crime has fallen in States without mandatory minimums during the same time frame.