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Oregon’s booming business: Producing prison inmates September 21, 2007

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

Oregon just opened its 14th prison and officials are already wondering about capacity. How many more will Oregon need in the coming years?

This month’s opening of the $190 million Deer Ridge Correctional Institution east of Madras was supposed to mark the end of a boom that has seen the state double its number of prison beds in 12 years. The unknown now is what the need will be if the anti-crime measure, that may appear on the November 2008 ballot, will be.

Kevin Mannix, former state lawmaker and repeat Republican candidate for governor who sponsored Measure 11, is currently busy with his latest prison-sentencing measure. If passed, it will set fixed prison terms for certain violent crimes, with no parole or probation possible. It will also set mandatory sentences for burglars, car thieves, identity thieves and some drug dealers of which most now get probation rather than prison sentences.

Sufficient prison space won’t be waiting if Mannix’s latest measure passes. It could also double Oregon’s inmate population from 3,000 to 6,000 inmates and cost the taxpayers as much as $400 million every two years and that amount is just for openers. Incidentally, as far as our answer to anti-social activity is concerned, the U.S. locks up six times as many citizens per capita as England, seventeen times as many as Japan. In fact, prisons and jails in the U.S. now hold nearly two million people which means up to one out of every one hundred and forty residents is behind bars. And we end up looking worse and worse as the years pass and we keep locking people up in ever-increasing numbers.

Mannix suggests that instead of traditional prisons, officials who deal with lawbreakers build work camps or come up with other creative ways to retain and control low-risk offenders. Mannix has also said, “This requires prison officials to break the mold” or, as the hackneyed expression goes, think outside the box. But he doesn’t offer any ideas that are new; after all, work camps go back a long way and haven’t, it would appear, turned that proverbial corner on prevention or repeat offenders any more than traditional prisons.

One county district attorney, Clackamas’ John Foote, is reported to have spoken for himself and other prosecutors when he commented that they want to see how the Legislature responds, if it does respond to this matter, when it meets in February. Foote has also said that “We know from citizens and victims that property crime remains a real concern in our communities and probably needs to be addressed.”

But the current Legislature is not known as a place full of new ideas or ways of handling problems; its members typically can do no more than act as partisans and demonstrate how well grown men and women can haggle with one another. Those members interested in trying truly effective new directions seem always run off by a majority that’s afraid it won’t be re-elected if something proposed will cost any money while the statesmen among them seem to be as rare as modern-day bountiful salmon runs.

One matter that bothers me a lot is where are these people who commit all these crimes coming from? Are they mainly Oregonians from birth or are they mostly from out of state or out of country? Is it simply a mixed bag of offenders from all over the place? Are they mainly persons of color? When they are from out of state or out of country are there barriers to sending them back to where they came from or can we once and for all, especially with those who come here from other countries not to work but to rob, rape and peddle illicit drugs, send them back to where they’ve come and make certain a return will result in immediate deportation and placement on an active watch list?

Most important of all, however, regarding inmates whose origin is Oregon, why aren’t we as a state of many responsible citizens, putting more money, time and effort into getting help to these people when they first appear troubled or about to get in trouble. That is, when they’re children or adolescents. If we used our smarts we’d make certain to secure relationships with their families, where they grow up in a family setting or with guardians, whomever is in charge of their youth years, so the person or persons in charge can establish and maintain preventative measures rather than application of curative attempts by the society-at-large that’s now tried or incarceration efforts that so often result in recidivism or repeat offenders. The end result of what’s now done via the Mannix approach is simple to create career criminals with long rap sheets.

This country has things so terribly backwards. Family unit members, mainly those who are willing to acquire positive guidance skills and behave like responsible adults, must be trained and assisted to keep their children from lives of crime that far too often include sentences in prison. This means that school and college preparation for work and employment become important to every family and we make certain they function so as to develop productive, contributing, successful adults, not ones who know only how to get into trouble by breaking the law because they’ve not been properly directed, often supervising their own growing up without adult supervision.

When are we going to wise up? Kevin Mannix is always coming forward with another measure whose purpose is to incarcerate people. That’s a mentality and outlook that apparently represents all he knows how to do. He appears the modern-day standard bearer of Old Testament treatment and outdated methods. If we’d place considerable effort into raising responsible people we wouldn’t need the likes of a guy with his one-dimensional way to deal with people: throw them in prison or get “creative” in undefined ways and just punish them as long and as hard as possible in some sort of work camp setting, surrounded by barbed wire and impacted by negative influences. Well, we know what we get from that approach and it would seem that we would have learned something by now as should have the whole nation.

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