jump to navigation

To Pay For Prisons, Oregon Might Release Some Prisoners June 14, 2009

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

Faced with a $78 million hole in the state public safety budget, lawmakers are proposing to save money by delaying a voter-approved measure requiring longer sentences for property thieves. Also, they want to release prisoners early for good behavior and ease penalties for people caught with small amounts of drugs.

Lawmakers have spent months negotiating how Oregon might hold down prison costs while honoring the intent of voters who last year endorsed Measure 57, which slapped tougher sentences on property and drug crimes.

The result is a deal spelled out in two bills that could get a committee vote as early as today.

The first bill takes on the tricky question of delaying Measure 57, which the Legislature put on the ballot as an alternative to a more expensive sentencing measure.

About 110 people have been sentenced to prison since Measure 57 took effect Jan. 1, 2009.

Those prisoners would continue to serve their time as prescribed under Measure 57. Those who deal high volumes of drugs or steal from the elderly also would serve the full time mandated in Measure 57.

However, House Bill 2335 would suspend Measure 57 terms for others convicted of drug or property crimes until January 2012. State officials estimate that would save about $60 million over two years.

The bill also would make nonviolent criminals eligible for early release based on good behavior. Estimated savings: $8 million.

“I don’t like letting people out of jail,” said Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a veteran of 31 years in law enforcement.

“If it wasn’t for the budget crunch, we wouldn’t be having the debate,” he said. “But the cuts are so devastating that we have to save money.”

Barker estimates the state could save $95 million to be plowed back into prisons, courts and state police.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski sent a letter Monday praising the four Democrats who led the negotiations.

The deal will “generate enough savings to maintain critical public safety services like State Police 24/7 patrol, Oregon Youth Authority beds, court days and other services,” he wrote.

The state’s prisons budget has grown 20 percent each biennium since 1995.

One factor driving up costs is Measure 11, passed by voters in 1994. It imposed longer mandatory prison terms for 16 violent and sex-related offenses, required juveniles to be prosecuted as adults for those crimes and prohibited any good behavior credit for anyone who received a Measure 11 sentence.

Last fall, voters endorsed Measure 57, which mandated longer sentences for repeat property thieves. It is estimated to cost the state an additional $74 million in the next two years.

The proposed Measure 57 sentencing changes are by no means a sure thing.

Because lawmakers are considering decreasing sentences imposed by voters, the changes require a two-thirds majority: 40 votes in the House and 20 in the Senate.




1. Michelle See - June 24, 2009

It is encouraging to witness a proactive movement that questions the need to incarcerate non-violent offenders. Perhaps exploring probation violations, in respect to high recidivism rates may also yeild cost effective solutions. Specifically, individuals (non-violent offenders) who are chemically dependant that continue to use substances. This is an area in which the legislature could take a hard look at rehabilitation. Individuals who are granted probation by the court typically do not have the financial means to seek drug and alcohol treatment. So I ask, is easier to lock them up rather than investing in human potential? Small counties such as Klamath, and Lake, do not have adequate treatment available nor viable employment options. These individuals face many barriers that does not even take into consideration the present state of the economy.

Finally, I wonder how convicted individuals are expected to pay jail fees, fines, etc. when they are represented in court as indigent. Just opening the doors for early release is not an intervention; it is a solution to a budget deficiet. Addiction is a social issue and together we must consider proactive means to create a healthy community for all of our citizens.