Pubdate: Sat, 27 Jun 2009
Source: Statesman Journal (Salem, OR)
Copyright: 2009 Statesman Journal
Author: Peter Wong, Statesman Journal
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


Slower Application of Tough-On-Crime Law Is Meant to Ease Public-Safety Cuts

The Oregon House voted Friday on a second try to phase in a new 
tough-on-crime law and use the savings to offset spending cuts in 
public-safety agencies.

The 40-19 vote was the exact majority required under the Oregon 
Constitution for lawmakers to approve reductions in prison sentences 
approved by the voters. House Bill 3508 modifies last fall's Measure 
57 and moves to the Senate, which is expected to take it up today.

The 2009 session is heading to an end, but adjournment is likely 
Monday at the earliest.

The state's budget crisis was the impetus for the bill, which even 
advocates of the longer sentences conceded was necessary in some form.

"Some people feel this goes too far; others feel it doesn't go far 
enough," said Rep. Chip Shields, D-Portland, who has been an advocate 
for alternatives to mandatory prison sentences, such as drug 
treatment promised under Measure 57. "But it's either this bill or 
drastic cuts to our public-safety system."

Measure 57, which increases prison sentences for repeat property and 
drug offenders, will continue in effect until Feb. 15. Then most of 
the new sentences under it would be suspended through Jan. 1, 2012.

Stiffer penalties would remain in effect for people convicted of 
committing fraud against older people, delivering illegal drugs to 
minors, or selling significant quantities of drugs.

The $25 million in savings from the two-year delay, plus savings from 
the bill's other provisions, will enable lawmakers to restore money 
that otherwise would be cut from state prisons, Oregon State Police, 
Oregon Youth Authority and other public-safety agency budgets. 
Hundreds of jobs were at stake, including at least 90 at Hillcrest 
Youth Correctional Facility in Salem, which would have lost 76 
close-custody beds.

About 4,500 inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes would be eligible 
for "earned time" that would reduce 30 percent, instead of 20 
percent, of their sentences. A notice provision to the victim, the 
district attorney and the court is required. Violent offenders 
convicted under a 1994 mandatory-prison law are ineligible for early release.

The House fell short by three votes last week of passing the original 
bill, which won only two Republican votes.

But after reworking it with district attorneys and sheriffs, who 
objected to the earlier version, lawmakers were able to come up with 
another compromise that won support of 35 of the 36 Democrats and 
five Republicans. Democrat Betty Komp of Woodburn was excused because 
of illness; she voted for the original bill.

"The cookie wasn't quite baked, the dough was still soft, so we put 
it back in the oven and reforged it," said Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, 
chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, a retired Portland police 
lieutenant and one of the negotiators.

District attorneys as a group opposed any delay in the measure they 
helped craft last year as an alternative to mandatory prison 
sentences contained in Measure 61, which voters rejected.

But they won an extension of Measure 57, which already has taken 
effect, through mid-February in hopes of demonstrating to lawmakers 
that the actual cost of putting it into effect is less than projected.

They also won removal of one provision that would have reduced from a 
felony to a misdemeanor simple possession of a drug, other than 
marijuana, if the offender had less than one gram and had no prior offenses.

District attorneys had proposed a one-time early release of inmates 
already scheduled to leave state prisons. But Gov. Ted Kulongoski, a 
former attorney general, said on Tuesday that proposal failed to 
produce enough savings to offset cuts in public-safety budgets.

Republicans Cliff Bentz of Ontario, Bill Garrard of Klamath Falls and 
George Gilman of Medford joined Vicki Berger

of Salem and Bob Jenson of Pendleton to provide the critical votes 
for passage. Democrat Deborah Boone of Cannon Beach switched from 
"no" last week to "yes" on Friday.

Among the pending cuts was the closure of the 50-bed Eastern Oregon 
Youth Correctional Facility in Burns, in Bentz's district. Bentz 
voted against the original bill last week, but said he hoped 
something better could be negotiated with the district attorneys.

"I have been assured that they do believe this is the best of a 
number of bad solutions, and it's the best we can do," Bentz said.

David Rogers, executive director of the Partnership for Safety and 
Justice based in Portland, said the final bill wasn't as inclusive as 
the original, but it was a good start in the direction his group wants to go.



Summary of key provisions of House Bill 3508:

PHASE-IN: Increased prison sentences under Measure 57 for repeat 
property and drug offenders will continue through Feb. 15, then will 
be suspended until Jan. 1, 2012. Remaining in effect are penalties 
against those who commit fraud against older people, deliver illegal 
drugs to minors, or sell significant quantities of drugs.

EARNED TIME: About 4,500 offenders would be eligible to accumulate 
time to reduce their sentences by 30 percent, instead of the current 
20 percent. Violent offenders under a 1994 mandatory-sentencing law 
(Measure 11) are not eligible. There is a notice requirement, and a 
hearing if the district attorney or the court objects to an early 
release. This provision expires July 1, 2013.

PROBATION REVOCATION: Felony offenders who violate probation face a 
maximum of 60 days in jail, instead of the current 180 days, unless 
they commit a new crime. This provision expires July 1, 2011.

STATUS OF OFFENDERS: Counties will not be paid state 
community-corrections grants for offenders placed on "inactive" 
probation or post-prison supervision. These provisions expire July 1, 2011.

IMMIGRATION: The commutation process is streamlined for those inmates 
subject to federal enforcement orders, in prison for a nonviolent 
felony, and who have agreed not to object to deportation. This 
provision expires July 1, 2011.

THIRD-DEGREE ASSAULT: If the offender committed this crime while 
driving drunk, the prison sentence will be 27 months instead of 22 
months, and the crime prosecuted as a Class B felony instead of a 
Class C felony.

FIRST-DEGREE KIDNAPPING: If the offense was intended to commit a sex 
crime against someone younger than 12 years old, the prison sentence 
will be 25 years, instead of five years and 10 months, and crime 
prosecuted as a Class A felony instead of a Class B felony. The 
change closes a loophole in a 2006 law known as "Jessica's Law," 
which lengthened prison sentences for those who commit sex crimes 
against children.

PAROLE BOARD: Parole hearings may be held in other than two-year 
increments under certain circumstances.

STATE POLICE ADDITIONS: 20 troopers will be added in August and 19 in 
October for around-the-clock patrols on major highways. Add-backs to 
other agencies are contained in other budgets. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake