Jul 152010

In a recent guest editorial contrast, Joshua Marquis, Clatsop County District Attorney, presented  a highly vindictive view of justice.

Marquis is most famous as Oregon’s most extreme proponent of the death penalty.  His well known support for Measure 11 is also self-serving, because it gives him, as a prosecutor, more power over sentencing than the judge, because he decides whom he will prosecute under Measure 11, and whom he will prosecute under reduced charges.  I found his deceptive attacks on several fine organizations particularly offensive.

Paul Solomon, Director of Partnership for Safety and Justice, and Ron Chase, Director of Sponsors, responded to it, presenting a far more enlightened restorative view of justice.

15solomon The July 4 guest viewpoint by Josh Marquis, “In advocating for the inmates, let’s not forget about the crime,” requires a response.

We believe that people should be held accountable for their actions. We have worked with people in the criminal justice system for more than 30 years combined, and anecdotally can tell you that the vast majority of the people we have worked with do not forget about the crime that they committed. Even if they wanted to forget, criminal background checks for employment and housing, offender registration laws and supervision requirements make it very difficult for people to lose sight of their criminal histories and create myriad barriers to successful re-entry.

Marquis would have us believe that organizations such as the Partnership for Safety and Justice, Sponsors, Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants, and Better People are swimming in money and have no concern for the suffering and trauma experienced by many crime victims. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The groups Marquis criticizes are the very organizations that are seeking cost-effective solutions to crime that support the efforts of survivors of crime, people convicted of crime and the families of both to rebuild their lives. They advocate for the creation of policies that are less dependent on the over-reliance of incarceration — and actually make us safer.

As far as “swimming in money” is regarded, that got a good laugh. It has been a constant struggle over the years to simply keep Sponsors afloat. If Marquis would like to examine Sponsors’ budget, he is more than welcome. It should also be noted that Sponsors Inc. has never received a dime of Soros Foundation money, although we appreciate the suggestion and will look into it.

In fact, Sponsors contracts for state community corrections funds with Lane County to provide re-entry services to those being released from state prison and returning to Lane County. People in the “high-risk” (to re-offend) population served by Sponsors generally arrive homeless and indigent — and leave drug free, in compliance with release conditions, with stable employment and permanent, sustainable housing. There is no better service we can provide victims than to do our best to encourage those with criminal histories to change their ways and become productive community members.

Marquis would also have us believe that groups such as Crime Victims United and the Oregon Anti-Crime Alliance are poor, ineffective organizations “operating on a wing and a prayer.”

This analysis is misleading and disingenuous. CVU, led by Steve Doell, is a highly influential organization that has deftly and successfully lobbied for “tough on crime” sentencing enhancements and challenged any efforts to slow the growth of our state corrections system, which now ranks No. 1 in the country in the percentage of general fund dollars spent on prisons.

15Chase Marquis also neglected to mention the Oregon Anti-Crime Alliance, staffed by Ballot Measure 11 author Kevin Mannix and former Lane County District Attorney Doug Harcleroad. Their role should not be overlooked, either. Unlike the organizations named by Marquis, Mannix and his ballot measure campaigns have been extremely well-funded, having been the beneficiary of hundreds of thousands of dollars from out-of-state millionaire Loren Parks.

Measure 11 is the biggest driver of corrections spending in the state. Mandatory minimum sentencing schemes have forced a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with the complex issue of crime and criminality.

Marquis points to a declining crime rate as a justifier for mandatory minimums. In actuality, crime rates have been dropping in Oregon and across the country for many years.

Criminologists will tell you that incarceration is but one factor in analyzing the fluctuating rates of crime. Age and economics have as much to do with crime rates, if not more, than incarceration. Furthermore, other states have realized a drop in crime while decreasing their prison population.

In these difficult economic times we need to spend our precious state resources wisely. As the state’s corrections director has said, our current prison growth “is on an unsustainable trajectory.”

While the vindictive justice advocated by Marquis, Mannix and Doell, among others, may provide a sense of satisfaction or a false sense of security, it does little to create a system that is cost efficient and fair while holding people accountable, and it does nothing to change their behavior.

It is unfortunate that Parks doesn’t use his millions to fund evidence-based programs proven to reduce future crime. The state’s ability to fund these programs has been reduced by the mandate for prison beds, which has consumed the lion’s share of the correction’s budget…

Inserted from <The Register Guard>

I completely agree with the restorative view.  Corrections has two functions.  The first is to protect our communities from the predations of dangerous criminals.  The second is to reform dangerous criminals into citizens who will no longer threaten our communities.

Vindictive justice does nothing to further either of those purposes.  Prisoners warehoused under inhumane conditions return to society both more bitter and better educated in crime then they were when they entered prison.  Since almost all prisoners eventually are released, are these the prisoners you want moving into your neighborhoods?

Restorative justice is a far better solution.  Prisoners, housed under humane conditions, encouraged and provided tools with which to transform their lives are far more likely to become law-abiding citizens.

Speaking personally, I am grateful organizations like Partnership for Safety and Justice, CURE, Sponsors, and, of course, our own 7th Step Foundation for the assistance and inspiration they provided me to transform my own life when I was in prison.  Never does a day pass that I do not remember my own crimes with shame and regret, but I am proud of the person I have become, maintaining my own freedom as a pro-social citizen for over eleven years since my release, volunteering in Oregon State Penitentiary and in my community, through 7th Step, to help other prisoners change and reintegrate, and co-facilitating a weekly therapy group for former prisoners.  I consider myself an example of what restorative justice can do.  Had I found only such attitudes as those of Mr. Marquis, I doubt I would have succeeded.

Jun 232010

I trust you will find this news release useful.


Contact: Adam Ratliff – 202-558-7974 x.306 / aratliff@justicepolicy.org

Jason Fenster – (202) 558-7974 x300 / jfenster@justicepolicy.org,

States can safely reduce prison populations and save money, new brief says

Reducing prison populations and maintaining public safety can both be accomplished while allowing state taxpayers to save money with more effective programs, group says.

opendoor WASHINGTON, D.C. — States should use innovative and evidence-based strategies to trim their prison populations, reduce the likelihood that a released person will return to prison and send fewer people to prison in the first place according to research released today by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI). With many states facing budget crises, important decisions are being made about where money will and will not be spent. JPI found that increasing opportunities for parole and improving parole release decisions, improving parole supervision and ensuring access to support and treatment services are cost-effective means of cutting extraneous spending while maintaining public safety. In FY2008, states spent $52 billion on corrections, money that could be spent on infrastructure, education, housing and job creation, the group says.

“Increasing the availability of parole and making better decisions about who is released is smart policy,” said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of JPI. “Options such as medical parole and geriatric release would yield tremendous monetary benefits, ensure people receive the services they need and would not be a detriment to public safety. States could in turn refocus savings toward crucial social services to help prevent people from entering prison in the first place.”

According to For Immediate Release: How to Safely Reduce Prison Populations and Support People Returning to Their Communities, released today by JPI, incarceration costs significantly less than parole supervision and some states are using innovative methods of supervision that are yielding positive results. As spending more time in prison does not equate to more public safety, releasing people early with appropriate supervision can be an effective way of reducing prison populations.

Velázquez added, “The notion that there is a public safety trade-off when shifting public dollars from prisons to positive, pro-social investments is false and has contributed to destructive policies that have given the United States the world’s largest incarceration rate and continue to disproportionately impact communities of color. Releasing people deemed ‘low risk’ to community supervision and providing adequate treatment and support services will improve outcomes and strengthen families and communities.”

The Justice Policy Institute (JPI) is a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to reducing society’s use of incarceration and promoting just and effective social policies.

To read JPI’s report, “For Immediate Release” CLICK HERE. For other analysis on safe, effective means of saving money and ensuring public safety, please visit our website at www.justicepolicy.org.

Inserted from <Justicepolicy.org>

As excellent as these ideas are, many of them cannot be instituted here in Oregon, because mandatory minimum sentencing does not permit it.  The cost in human suffering promses to be high.

Kulongosky-cuts Gov. Ted Kulongoski said today he would implement most of the across-the-board spending cuts proposed by state agencies two weeks ago to eliminate a projected $577 million shortfall in tax collections.

“With limited options to balance the budget, and growing uncertainty about federal assistance, the longer we wait to implement these reductions, the deeper the cuts will have to be to bring the budget into balance,” he said after meeting with agency directors earlier today.

Read the report: List of Oregon State agency reductions.

The cuts amount to about 9 percent of spending from the tax-supported general fund for the second year of the state’s two-year budget cycle, which starts July 1. Some layoffs are likely.

Although Kulongoski rejected proposals to close three small prisons and cut deeply into community corrections grants for counties, he let stand proposals to eliminate Oregon Project Independence, halve in-home care for 10,500 seniors and cut federally funded personal care for 1,500 seniors, and others offered by agencies.

“I know these cuts are significant and will impact the lives of thousands of Oregonians across the state,” he said. “But we have to operate with the reality of today and we simply do not have the revenue to fund the level of services approved in the current budget.”

The governor invoked his authority under a 1951 law to cut spending across the board from the tax-supported general fund to eliminate the projected shortfall… [emphasis added]

Inserted from <Statesman-Journal>

Innocent seniors are not the only ones who will lose services, because Oregon’s mandatory minimum initiatives tie our state government’s hands, forcing them to incarcerate many who could safely be released.  While I disagree with Kulongoski’s decision, the way he has to juggle to balance the budget would be easier, were he not constrained by these measures.

Jun 072010

The best ways we can reduce the crime rate, long term, is through education to prevent crime and rehabilitative services to help prisoners change.  That makes this story so disturbing.

MandMins State reserve money that could have gone to education will likely go to state prisons and, according to some, support of crime initiatives is holding taxpayer money hostage.

Like every other state agency, Oregon’s Department of Corrections has been ordered by the governor to cut 9 percent of its budget, a total of $50 million.

“We have a bit of a box we’re in that is very difficult to manage,” said Max Williams, the director of the Department of Corrections.

Williams said voter-passed initiatives will keep him from making enough cuts.

“But I don’t believe we can get to the $50 million target without bumping into some amount of those restrictions that are on the system,” he said.

Those restrictions come from voter-approved initiatives Measure 11, the state’s minimum sentencing law; Measure 57, which keeps repeat property offenders in jail longer; Article 1, Section 44 is a voter-passed law that requires a judge’s sentence to be carried out, and numerous federal mandates, including inmate health care.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski on Tuesday said the Legislature will have to use state reserve funds to keep Oregon’s prison system compliant with the law.

“The choices they have are too severe. They can’t release people,” he said…

Inserted from <KATU>

Cutting funds to schools guarantees that more Oregonians will become criminals.  In these hard times, we should not be building more prisons, but mandatory minimum sentencing requires it.

Sadly, there are few places in a corrections budget where funds can be cut.  I fear that the most likely target will be programming to provide prisoners an opportunity to rehabilitate themselves.

I urge you to support the repeal of Oregon Measures 11 and 57.

May 262010

Here’s a review of the Measure 11 issue.

Measure11Trends Portland police have a new chief, a new commissioner and now a new comic book.

The comic book makes an attempt to explain the severity of Measure 11’s “one strike you’re out” sentencing guidelines. Inappropriate as it was to mail the comic book to 10-year-olds, the public ought to understand the measure that they passed in 1994.

Measure 11 specifies certain crimes – from murder to second-degree robbery – carry a mandatory sentence.It applies to all defendants over the age of 15, requiring juveniles over 15 charged with these crimes to be tried as adults. The sentencing judge cannot give a lesser sentence than that prescribed by Measure 11, nor can a prisoner’s sentence be reduced below the minimum for parole or good behavior.

Prior to 1989, Oregon judges would decide whether a convicted felon should be put on probation or sent to prison, and for those sent to prison, judges could set a maximum sentence, known as an “indeterminate sentence.” Based on a subsequent decision by the Oregon Parole Board, the average offender could serve a fraction of the sentence handed down by the judge.

Sentencing guidelines were established in 1989, in an attempt to achieve the following four goals:

–Proportional punishment, imposing the most severe sentences on the most serious offenders.

–Truth in sentencing, so a judge’s sentence would more closely reflect actual prison time.

–Sentence uniformity, to reduce disparities among judges.

–Maintenance of correctional capacity consistent with sentencing policy, so the criminal justice system would be able to deliver proposed penalties.

Voter- or legislatively adopted laws such as Measure 11 divert from the original sentencing guidelines and have an effect on Oregon’s prison population and thus taxpayer costs… [emphasis added]

Inserted from <The Oregonian>

The effect of Measure eleven has been an increase of over 75% in incarceration during a time of falling crime rates.  This is considerably higher than the increases in neighboring states.  The costs of building and maintaining new prisons and hiring new staff to house and supervise the additional prisoners have been a constant drain on Oregon’s budget.

In my opinion this policy has three main problems in addition to the cost.

First, it takes from the juvenile courts their rightful authority to determine whether or not a juvenile offender should be tried as an adult.

Second, it takes from judges their rightful authority to consider mitigation and aggravation when passing sentences.

Third, it takes a powerful incentive to change from prisoners: good time.  When I went to prison, I felt alienated and bitter.  Nevertheless, out of self-interest I took a cognitive restructuring course offered by 7th Step.  My only intent was to earn good time.  While taking that course, I had a light-bulb experience.  I recognized my need to take responsibility for my crimes and do whatever it takes to change.  Had that incentive to earn good time not been there, I would not have taken that course.  I might not have become the person I am today.

Measure 11 was passed through the politics of fear.  In my opinion, it’s time to replace that fear with rational thought and move in a better direction.