Oregon commission proposes changes to Measure 11
Dec 17, 2012 | 1 Comment
By JONATHAN J. COOPER
Of the Associated Press
SALEM — A commission created by Gov. John Kitzhaber on Monday proposed rolling back mandatory-minimum prison sentences for certain crimes as the Legislature prepares to take a hard look at stemming the rising cost of prisons.
The Commission on Public Safety also suggested boosting the amount of time that can be dropped from an inmate's sentence for good behavior and participation in prison programs.
Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote sharply opposed those ideas, saying Oregon has been extraordinarily successful in reducing crime and the law enforcement community would vigorously fight any changes that reduce sentences.
Oregon's prison population is projected to grow by 2,300 inmates over the next 10 years. Critics say the cost of building and operating new prisons to house them would divert money from higher priorities like education, and from police and local programs that prevent crime in the first place.
The governor insists Oregon can reduce spending on prisons without compromising public safety.
The commission's proposal will be forwarded to the governor and the Legislature. Kitzhaber has pushed lawmakers to consider sentencing changes that keep the prison population essentially flat at 14,600.
The report lays out a menu of options that could collectively avoid the need for up to 2,500 prison beds over 10 years. Among the proposed changes:
— Eliminate or modify mandatory minimums for three crimes under Measure 11 from the 1994 ballot — second-degree robbery, second-degree assault and first-degree sex abuse. Instead, the report suggests giving judges more flexibility to set sentences.
— Modify Measure 57 from the 2008 ballot to reduce the minimum sentence for some property and drug crimes, again giving judges more flexibility.
— Increase the maximum amount of “earned time” for which inmates can qualify from 20 percent of their sentence to 30 percent. Inmates can secure an earlier release by behaving well and participating in prison programming.
— Align Oregon's sentencing guidelines for marijuana-related offenses with federal guidelines. Currently, Oregon's sentencing options for possession, manufacturing and distribution of pot are more severe than federal guidelines.
— Reduce the presumptive sentence for driving with a suspended license to jail or probation. The crime can currently draw up to 25 months in prison.
— Direct the Department of Corrections to reduce its cost per inmate per day.
The recommended changes would not apply to inmates currently serving a prison sentence.
The law-enforcement community has vocally opposed changes that reduce sentences, saying the problem has been overstated and can be resolved without reducing prison time.
Foote, representing district attorneys, drafted an alternative proposal that casts doubt on the need for substantial sentencing reforms, saying much of the projected growth in the prison population is attributable to growth in the population as a whole.
Foote rejects the changes to mandatory-minimum ballot measures as well as the increase in earned time but concurs with 11 of the 18 recommendations.
“Law enforcement does not support fundamental changes to sentencing laws in Oregon, including changes to Ballot Measure 11,” Foote said.
The report recommends investing the savings in other public safety programs, including drug courts, police training, victim services and community re-entry programs for ex-cons.
“I look forward to a robust discussion with the Legislature over practical solutions that protect public safety and achieve the corrections savings and reinvestments outlined in my budget,” Kitzhaber said in a statement.
The commissioners — representatives of all three branches of government, the public and law enforcement — voted to send the report to the governor and Legislature but stopped short of recommending that they approve it. The distinction was intended to ensure it would pass unanimously despite the opposition from law enforcement to key provisions.
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