Pew Applauds Bipartisan Passage of Public Safety Reforms in Oregon

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Legislation Designed to Deliver a Better Public Safety Return on State's Corrections Spending

Salem, OR (July 1, 2013)–Bipartisan majorities of both chambers of the Oregon State Legislature have passed a broad criminal justice bill that will improve public safety and save taxpayers $326 million over the next decade. HB 3194 is projected to avert all of the state's anticipated prison growth over the next five years while strengthening local public safety strategies. The House of Representatives passed the measure on Wednesday by a vote of 40-18; the Senate approved it 19-11 today.

Adam Gelb, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts' public safety performance project, stated:

“Oregon's public safety package reflects an emerging national consensus on criminal justice policy that locking up more nonviolent offenders for longer prison terms isn't the best way to fight crime and reduce recidivism.

“State leaders crafted a package of sentencing and corrections reforms that further target Oregon's prison space on serious violent criminals, cut prison costs, and shift the savings into local public safety efforts proven to do a better job stopping crime before it happens.

“Thanks to the hard work of Governor Kitzhaber, legislative leaders, former Chief Justice Paul De Muniz and members of the Oregon Commission on Public Safety, this bill will make Oregon safer and save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Background

Without action by the state legislature, Oregon's prison population was projected to grow by 2,000 inmates in the next 10 years. This growth, fueled mostly by nonviolent offenders, would have cost taxpayers an additional $600 million. As prisons consumed a growing share of Oregon's public safety budget, many local programs with a proven track record of preventing crime were suffering from budget shortages.

In order to get Oregon a better return on its public safety dollars, state officials launched a bipartisan, inter-branch working group to analyze the state's sentencing and corrections trends and to generate policy recommendations for the legislature. The Oregon Commission on Public Safety used state-level data, the growing body of national research about what works in corrections, and engagement with criminal justice stakeholders to develop the policy options that served as a foundation for HB 3194.

Through evidence-based sentencing alternatives and other effective crime prevention strategies, the reform package will avert prison growth for five years and is expected to eliminate the need for approximately 870 of the projected 2,000 bed increase over ten years. Reforms in HB 3194 include:

  • Modifying Measure 57 by repealing mandatory minimums for drug offenses and placing select property offenses in new sentencing ranges.
  • Expanding presumptive probation for marijuana and driving-while-suspended offenses.
  • Expanding from 30 days to 90 days the amount of transitional leave inmates have at the end of their sentences so they can participate in re-entry supervision programs.
  • Creating a justice reinvestment grant program to support county efforts to reduce recidivism and expand prison alternatives.
  • Allowing probationers to earn time off their sentences by complying with the terms of their supervision.

The legislation received support from a broad coalition of stakeholders, including business leaders and the state associations of community corrections directors, police chiefs, district attorneys, and sheriffs.

There is also widespread public support for the sentencing and corrections reforms included in HB 3194, according to a poll conducted by the bipartisan team of Public Opinion Strategies and the Mellman Group. Regardless of political party, Oregonians overwhelmingly want their tax dollars spent more effectively, with more than eight out of 10 Oregon voters agreeing that the state's prisons should be put to the cost-benefit test to make sure taxpayers are getting the best results for their dollars. By clear margins regardless of political party affiliation, sex, or history as a victim of crime, voters favor slowing prison growth and redirecting the savings to local public safety strategies.

HB 3194 places Oregon in the company of more than a dozen states, including Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas that are implementing  “justice reinvestment” policies designed to protect public safety, hold offenders accountable, and control corrections costs. These reforms have contributed to the first drop in the national prison population in nearly 40 years, while crime rates continue to decline.

At the request of state leaders, Pew's public safety performance project provided technical assistance to the Oregon Commission on Public Safety and to state officials throughout the reform process.

The Pew Charitable Trusts is a nonprofit organization that applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public, and stimulate civic life.

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