Oregon commission considers easing Measure 11 sentences to spare more prison construction December 18, 2012Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback
The state Commission on Public Safety is scheduled to vote this afternoon on a reform package that would roll back prison sentences imposed by voters under Measure 11 and Measure 57.
The change is part of an effort to corral the growing costs of Oregon’s prison system, now costing taxpayers $1.3 billion in general fund in the current budget cycle. State officials say if nothing changes, taxpayers will have to fund add $600 million in the next 10 years to build and operate prisons to house 2,300 more inmates.
The commission is expected to consider removing mandatory sentences for three Measure 11 crimes – first-degree sex abuse, second-degree assault and second-degree robbery. Voters approved the tougher sentences in 1984.
The commission is being urged to also modify some sentences of Measure 57, targeted at repeat property and drug offenders.
The state’s prosecutors have vigorously fought the changes. They proposed two of their own that will be considered today – reducing the harshness of marijuana possession and distribution crimes and eliminating prison as a sanction for felony driving while suspended.
Gov. John Kitzhaber is counting on significant reforms to come from the commission. He recently proposed a 2013-2015 state budget that includes no money for new prisons and a flat prison population, currently standing at 14,000. Corrections Department officials were anticipating opening vacant prisons in Salem and Madras and launching construction of a new prison in Junction City during the next budget cycle.
The governor instead is looking to beef up spending with counties so they can better manage those on probation and parole. He is recommending an extra $32 million for such work, but hasn’t provided details on how the money would be used. State funding for community corrections work has eroded in recent years.
The Commission on Public Safety also is considering ways to release inmates sooner from prison if they meet certain conditions, such as completing in-prison schooling.
The commission also will considering making the Corrections Department more efficient by driving down the daily cost of an inmate from the current $82.48.
Kitzhaber is likely to support the commission’s recommendations, and then it will be the Legislature’s to chew over the reforms. Any sentencing changes likely wouldn’t take effect until next year and wouldn’t provide any reduction for inmates already convicted of the Measure 11 and Measure 47 crimes.