A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Prison terms need reform

Written December 20th, 2012 by
The Oregon legislature will get the commission's report when it meets in 2013.

The Oregon legislature will get the commission’s report when it meets in 2013.

Oregon could do a better job managing how it sentences criminals to prison, and if it did, it would save tons of money. In a nutshell that’s the finding of the Governor’s Commission on Public Safety, one of whose members was state Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany.

The commission’s report, delivered to the governor on Dec. 19, runs to 29 pages. I recommend you look it up online and read it yourself. If you do, you will avoid falling victim to the usual shorthand reporting about the report’s recommendations. The press can’t do justice to 29 pages of careful analysis and dozens of recommendations and options, complete with the rationale for each one.

For instance, if you hear that the commission wants to lessen the mandatory minimum prison sentences for three offenses — second-degree robbery and assault, ands first-degree sex abuse —  your first reaction is likely to be “No way!” So it helps to read in the report that sex abuse 1 “includes everything from an adult patting the clothed buttocks of a 13-year-old for purposes of sexual arousal to forcible sexual contact short of rape.” When you read that, you will agree that the different offenses do not need the same mandatory minimum term.

The commission made recommendations in 10 areas, from making Oregon marijuana sentences less severe in some cases, to allowing people on post-prison supervision to gain “earned time” by good behavior. If the legislature goes along with all or most of these proposals, the commission estimates that Oregon prisons will have nearly 800 fewer inmates in two years and nearly 2,500 fewer in 10.

Today the prison population is more than 14,000. Without a change it is estimated to grow by 2,300 in 10 years. At a cost of more than $80 a day per inmate now, you can see why it’s urgent to send fewer people behind bars for as long as we do. (hh)

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