THE EXPANDED COMMISSION WITHOUT A VICTIM’S REPRESENTATIVE
With the blessing of the leadership of the legislature, the Governor has reconvened and expanded the Commission on Public Safety. Now 12 members instead of 7 will study the public safety system. The expanded version of the Commission adds a district attorney, a criminal defense attorney, a sheriff or a police chief, a community corrections director, and a judge. These additions give the Commission some “boots on the ground” people who have current practical knowledge about how public safety works in Oregon. In short, these are good additions. Unfortunately, the Governor did not include a representative from the victims of crime in Oregon. I wrote several weeks ago about the need for a victims’ representative on any new Commission. I shall not repeat that discussion here other than to say that if we had no crime victims, then we pretty much wouldn’t need a criminal justice system. I wish the crime victims had a seat at the discussion table.
OUTSIDE EXPERTS TO HELP
The Commission will operate with the assistance of people from the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Pew Center on the States. These outside organizations are providing technical advice and data evaluation. I look forward to what they have to offer; and I expect the raw data, as well as their interpretation of it, will be made readily available to others as part of the transparency in government which is embodied in the Oregon public records law.
THE CHARGE TO THE COMMISSION – IS IT REALISTIC?
“….the Commission shall identify responsible and sustainable, evidence-based policies and practices that will control corrections growth, hold offenders accountable, and protect public safety.” This charge assumes there are evidenced-based policies and practices which Oregon is not using right now. Based on testimony from Jake Horowitz, the expert from the PEW foundation, this assumption may be faulty. Here is what Mr. Horowitz had to say about Oregon’s public safety system on February 15th, 2010, when testifying before an Oregon legislative committee:
“…A lot of good things going on in Oregon:
- Large decreases in crime and a comparatively low violent crime rate,
- Legislative endorsement of evidence-based practices,
- Mandate for administrative sanctioning and community supervision including probation and parole,
- Solid data and research on which to ground debates on these policies,
- and overall a modest incarceration rate. . .
- And it is nationally viewed that Oregon has made good use of probation and parole and has largely prioritized its prison space for violent offenders as opposed to lower-level drug and property offenders. [emphasis added]“
HERE’S THE BOTTOM LINE
- The cost of public safety, particularly the cost of corrections as the lion’s share of the dollars, is certainly a valid concern which should be seriously studied by the Commission. Can we incarcerate offenders for less cost and treat public employees fairly?
- Who is sent to prison and for how long should be reviewed but not in the abstract. I suggest the Commission decide who the 600 or so least serious offenders are currently in prison and see if they should have been sent to prison or been treated in some alternative fashion. What we know now is that 70% of offenders in Oregon prisons are there for a violent crime and almost all the rest are there because they are multiple-repeat property or repeat drug dealers. I suspect, that when the proposed analysis is completed, the majority of the Commission will decide that incarceration was the proper placement.
A FINAL NOTE
The PEW Center for the States assisted Arkansas with a Public Safety Reform in 2011. You can find the full report here: http://www.ncsl.org/documents/cj/pew/ARhandoutAug2011.pdf.
Here’s the summary of what they recommended:
1. Protect public safety and reduce recidivism by strengthening community supervision
Note: A good idea for Oregon that costs money.
2. Improve government efficiency and effectiveness through data collection and performance measurement
Note: Oregon does this now, and it could be improved. A very good idea that should be done by an impartial body that works for the legislature. This costs money.
3. Contain corrections costs by concentrating prison space on violent and career criminals
Note: Oregon already does this. See Mr. Horowitz’s testimony above.