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Oregon Looks At Tougher Probation For Lesser Crimes May 22, 2009

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

Oregon’s Criminal Justice Commission, which advises the governor, recommended that Oregon adopt a similar model. Craig Prins, the commission’s executive director, says the goal is to offer high-risk property offenders a "last chance to succeed" in the community while allowing the state to preserve prison beds for violent offenders.

Measure 57, approved in November 2008, increased prison sentences for nonviolent, repeat property and drug offenses. The measure is estimated to run up more than $140 million in prison costs the next two years and require 1,600 more prison beds in the next three years.

"Obviously, the economic recession makes building that many prison beds difficult," Prins said. "So we were looking at a way to mitigate some of that impact."

Under the governor’s plan, this "last chance" probation court would begin in at least two counties, hoping to divert about 600 Measure 57 offenders a year to the enhanced probation, Prins said. He estimates it will save the state $12 million to $15 million in 2009-11, and $25 million in the next biennium.

Prins says the program "holds faith with 57," because voters allowed judges to depart downward from presumptive prison sentences.

The state has applied to use $12 million of the federal Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, or $3 million for each of the four years, for the program and wants it to start by summer’s end, Prins said.

Group lobbies for switch

Crime Victims United lobbied for a HOPE-type program before the governor’s plan was drafted. The group is pushing House Bill 3264, which would establish a pilot program in Multnomah, Marion or Lane county.

"If we had this kind of program in Oregon going back five or six years, there’s a chance we might not have had Measure 57 at all," said Howard Rodstein of Crime Victims United. "We might have had a criminal justice system that had more credibility with offenders and the general public."

Several Oregon judges say they’re open to the idea. At a public hearing last month, Multnomah County Presiding Judge Jean Kerr Maurer said she would be interested in any model treatment court that is tailored to Oregon’s needs, as long as there’s adequate money.

Multnomah County Circuit Judge Michael Marcus cautioned that the state not replace its successful drug treatment courts. To accomplish HOPE’s program, he said, adequate resources would be needed to round up probation violators and serve warrants swiftly, without taking public safety resources from other important programs.

Scott Taylor, director of Multnomah County’s Department of Community Justice, supports the concept, but says the county’s probation or parole officers can already instantly sanction a defendant.

Still, there are differences: HOPE would bring the person before a judge, and Multnomah County has strived to reduce jail sanctions, relying more on community service or day reporting center sanctions.

"What I like about it is the swiftness and the accountability," Taylor said, "but I also think it would take up a lot of valuable resources that we could reserve for some of the more problematic cases."

The Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association voiced support. Multnomah County prosecutor Mark McDonnell said his office is interested, as long as prosecutors maintain control over who is referred vs. who faces prison time.

Alm said the proposal shouldn’t replace drug courts but target repeat violators. He also said judges should have the leeway to sanction a probationer to jail or to treatment or community service.

"The HOPE program is no different from regular probation," Alm said. "But we actually enforce the conditions and move so much more quickly than regular probation."



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