SHORTER SENTENCES FOR VIOLENT FELONS AND REPEAT OFFENDERS?
Last week the new, expanded (12 members – but no representative from the Oregon victims organizations) Commission met to get organized and to hear a presentation from Zoe Towns, of the PEW Public Safety Performance Project. Although I missed the meeting due to personal business out of state, I did carefully review the PowerPoint presentation slides. For the most part, the slides show national and other state data beginning to make the argument for putting fewer people in prison and representing that it will lower crime rates and be cheaper. This remains to be seen (frankly I’m skeptical) in Oregon because Oregon only puts 23% of felons in prison now, and the rest already remain in the local community on some form of supervision. And 70% of those in prison are there for a violent crime. The other 30% are pretty much repeat property and repeat drug dealers and manufacturers, with some repeat drunken drivers. Furthermore, Oregon ranks 33rd out of 50 states in the country in incarceration rate, so Oregon is not a “lock them up and throw away the key state” like the examples PEW used of Georgia and Texas. Here’s what Zoe Town’s colleague, Jake Horowitz, from PEW had to say when testifying before an Oregon legislative committee in 2010.
“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]
In short, Oregon sentencing laws already leave most offenders out of prison, so the ones going there are the select group who are violent or repeat offenders. In an earlier Chronicles, I suggested the new Commission pick the “best” 600 offenders or so currently in prison, analyze their cases, and I predicted a majority of the Commission would say they should be in prison. This real-life approach may yield better more practical results than looking down from 40,000 feet.
Just a note, the Oregon Anti-Crime Alliance believes in a balanced approach to in the criminal justice system. While prison and jail are necessary for some offenders, many of them can successfully be held accountable with alternatives to incarceration such as drug court and effective supervision on probation. In this area, the State of Oregon has badly failed to fund probation and treatment programs.
POLLING PRESENTED IS LACKING
The Commission heard polling information presented in the PEW presentation. Frankly, the questions in the poll appear to be drafted to get answers supporting less incarceration. I looked at the questions and realized they never asked a question where violent crimes that send people to prison in Oregon were named. Rape, Robbery, Sodomy, Murder, etc. were not mentioned in the questions at all. One would think that the PEW group would want to test the feelings of Oregonians who had earlier voted for mandatory minimum sentences for 16 violent crimes by asking about those 16 violent crimes and the actual sentences set forth in the law. Apparently not.
Even more disturbing to me is the factual inaccuracy built into the polling. Here is a glaring example: The following material is taken straight from the PEW presentation. This information clearly gives the reader, and I believe the persons responding to the poll, the belief that people are released from Oregon prisons WITHOUT mandatory supervision. This is simply false in Oregon. Those violent mandatory minimum-sentenced offenders are released on post-prison supervision, with most, if not all of them, being on mandatory supervision for three years. And non-violent offenders are all released from prison with at least a year of mandatory post-prison supervision. When you ask a factually inaccurate question, you get a useless answer. Read the material below knowing that Oregon law requires mandatory supervision upon prison release, and I’m betting you agree with me.
COST ANALYSIS OF CORRECTIONS A GOOD THING
The Oregon Anti-Crime Alliance is in favor of an honest look at our public safety system, and we are pleased to see the Commission will dig into the cost of Corrections in Oregon. After all, Oregon spends about $84 a day to house an inmate, and this is more than many other states.