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Report: Measure 11 disproportionately pushes black youths into adult criminal system August 10, 2011

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

Oregon’s mandatory sentencing law has pushed an outsized number of black youths into the state’s adult criminal justice system, though often not for the crime for which they were originally indicted, a new report argues.

Though African Americans account for just 4 percent of the state’s youth population, they represent 19 percent of Measure 11 indictments. However, only a fourth of those indicted are ever convicted under the law, the report found.

A majority – 61 percent – wind up with plea deals that allow them to sidestep mandatory sentences but still saddle them with adult convictions.

“There has been overcharging for African American youth on the front end,” said Shannon Wight, one of the report’s authors. “Those adult charges create lifelong challenges.”

The racial disparity is just one of several findings in the report, titled “Misguided Measures.” The report also asserts that Measure 11, which sets mandatory sentences for 21 violent crimes and mandates that youths charged with those crimes be tried as adults, has done nothing to reduce the juvenile crime rate and forces young people into adult jails.

The analysis is a product of the Partnership for Safety and Justice, an organization that has been critical of Measure 11 in the past, and the Campaign for Youth and Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates getting youth out of the adult system.

The report came just as Gov. John Kitzhaber announced a new commission to look at Oregon sentencing laws and practices. The governor’s office wouldn’t comment on the report directly, but Deputy General Counsel Steven Powers said that it would likely help “inform the work” of the commission.

The Oregon Distract Attorneys Association questions many findings of the report, calling it “an opinion piece, thinly disguised as a report about Ballot Measure 11 and juveniles.” In a written response signed by the Marion, Clackamas, Multnomah, Washington and Wasco county district attorneys, the Association noted that crime rates in Oregon dropped 51 percent between 1995 and 2009.

“If there was some other program in the last 16 years that had this type of result in the area that it affected, wouldn’t you think that people would be going ‘This is the most successful thing since sliced bread,'” said Norm Frink, the chief deputy district attorney for Multnomah County.

How much of that drop is attributable to Measure 11 is uncertain, though most experts agree that at least some of it is. Crime rates have dropped nationally during the same period.

As for the racial inequities, the district attorneys pointed to a 2004 study that suggested there was no evidence the law had exacerbated the already-existing racial inequalities in the criminal justice system. And a more recent state study shows that African Americans who are indicted under Measure 11 are less likely than their white counterparts to be sentenced to prison.

But those statistics don’t hold for youths, according to William Feyerherm, the vice provost of research of Portland State University. Feyerherm’s research shows that black youths are six times more likely than white youths to enter the adult system. Though Measure 11 isn’t the only way young people wind up in adult court, it’s a primary avenue.

Marcus Mundy, president of the Urban League of Portland, said it’s increasingly clear something needs to be done.

“It’s more of the same,” he said, noting that similar statistics were included in his own organization’s report. “We know what the statistics are, we know what the numbers are, we know it’s disproportionate. We have to make a change. When is Oregon going to made a change?

“There should be outrage about this and there isn’t. There should be action regarding this and there’s little.”



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