Rep. Macpherson’s idea of reform is letting criminals go free

Greg Macpherson + Measure 11 sentencing “reform”
= REDUCING sentences for convicted armed robbers, kidnappers, child molesters, rapists, attempted murderers and murderers.

By Crime Victims United,

Macpherson never let’s the FACTS concerning Measure 11 get in the way of his own ideology and disingenuous nature on the issue. Listen to the report then read the excellent dissection and analysis by Howard Rodstein, director and policy analyst with Crime Victims United.
Today OPB radio ran an awful report on “sentencing reform”. You can read and listen to it here:

Dear April:

Your report this morning on sentencing reform contained a number of inaccuracies and other points that I must comment on.

Greg MacPherson: “All of our budgets, whether it’s our school budget, our health care budget, our public safety budgets–all of those budgets are constrained because we’re spending so much money building prisons, and more than doubling our prison population.”

Representative Macpherson mentions that our prison population has doubled since Measure 11 passed in 1995 at every opportunity. Yet he never mentions, or even acknowledges that our violent crime rate decreased by 46 percent – the second largest decrease among all states over that period.

He also does not acknowledge the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission’s estimate that Oregon avoids about 100,000 crimes of all types per year because of the doubling of our prison population. This figure applies for 2005,2006, 2007, 2008 and on to the future. Looking back, a reasonable estimate is that increased incarceration has prevented a half-million crimes since 1995 and that total is increasing at the rate of roughly 100,000 per year. Representative Macpherson will never tell you this.

“When I’m going into a situation and I’ve got a negative attitude….” Richard, who asked that we only use his first name, is 28 years old, and a former firefighter. He’s almost finished serving time for burglary. Richard: “When I was charged with the crime that I did, I wanted to take a trial. My lawyers said it wouldn’t be a good idea.” He says they talked him into signing a plea deal. This is common in the criminal justice system. For one thing, public defenders are desperately overloaded with case files. For another, most prosecutors prefer a sure conviction over the uncertainty of a trial. Richard: “I didn’t really have any kind of — what would you say? –trust or faith in my lawyer so I went ahead and signed.” Richard says he’s sure the judge didn’t really agree with the sentence, but he was stuck applying the mandatory minimum.

First, burglary is not a Measure 11 crime. Measure 11 includes only violent and sex crimes. It does not include any property or drug crimes. See

Second, you rarely if ever go to prison in Oregon for a burglary. Perhaps for many burglaries but very rarely for one burglary. Check out Richard’s criminal history – I suspect it’s more than one burglary.

Third, a judge always has the power to reject a plea agreement.

Starting in 1994, Oregon ended up with a lot more cases like Richard’s, because of the passage of Measure 11.

There are NO Measure 11 burglary cases. About 45 percent are sex offenders. 21 percent are robbers. 12 percent for assaults. 6 percent for manslaughter. 5 percent for kidnapping. 4 percent for attempted murder. 4 percent for murder.

No burglary.

First off, he says, it looks like prosecutors used the threat of longer sentences to get defendants to plead to lesser charges. While most defendants weren’t going to jail for Measure 11 offenses, per se, the increase in the prison population was huge.

This is wrong. Check out the April, 2008 prison population forecast, page 6, Table 6. It lists the “Measure 11 impact” which is the number of prison beds required by Measure 11. The impact is broken down into two components, direct (longer sentences for Measure 11 convictions) and indirect (longer sentences for lesser convictions attributed to tougher plea agreements). The direct Measure 11 impact as of January 1, 2008 was 2,688 and the indirect impact was 1,128. Thus the effect of tougher plea bargaining attributed to Measure 11 is about 30 percent of the total impact.

Craig Prins: “It’s a 3500-bed impact rather than a 10,000-bed impact. That’s a matter of hundreds of millions of dollars. So it really has had a big effect on the financial cost of Measure 11.”

There is not enough context in your report to know what Craig is talking about. The “really big effect” is that the Measure 11 population is far lower than predicted in the financial impact statement during the 1994 election. The financial impact statement said that Measure 11 would require 6,000 additional beds by the year 2000. Here we are in 2008 and it is still nowhere near the 6,000 number. I guess Craig was talking about the hundreds of millions of dollars saved because Measure 11 has been implemented judiciously.

The legislature is in a bind. So much money has been spent on new prisons that some courts had to be shut down one day a week.

This was not due to new prisons any more than it was due to new schools. In fact it was due to the economic slump post 9/11 and it impacted all of government.

The state police budget suffered badly. One state official said it’s as if the voters bought a house with Measure 11. But the mortgage payment is so expensive, that there’s no money for home maintenance, or even furniture.

You would think Measure 11 is the majority of the state budget. In fact it is 2 percent of the general fund budget and .63 percent of the all-funds budget. The cost of Measure 11 is dwarfed by the cost of education and human services. Measure 11 will cost each Oregonian about $40 per year. For this, 4,000 violent criminals and serious sex offenders will be in prison rather than on our streets. Compare this to the cost of your auto insurance, your home owners insurance, or even your cable television bill. And yet your report made it sound like it’s the 900-pound gorilla. Not surprising because that is the snake oil that Representative Macpherson is selling.

Greg MacPherson: “I do believe we need to be more thoughtful than just a one size fits all, which is what mandatory minimums are.”

Representative Macpherson seems to have forgotten, if he ever knew it, that there are exceptions to Measure 11 for all second degree crimes and for Sex Abuse I and that judges sentence below the mandatory minimum in a significant number of Robbery II, Assault II, Kidnapping II cases (see RAND report on Measure 11). As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee you would expect Representative Macpherson to know criminal sentencing law.

He hopes the legislature will be open to changing Measure 11. MacPherson’s been around a long time in the Oregon House. If elected, he says he wants use his experience and political ties to move the agenda for sentencing moderation. And he says he’ll work to make sure the state is not hampered by new and inflexible mandatory sentencing laws.

Macpherson put on the fast track a bill leading to a ballot measure which, if passed in November, will increase Oregon’s prison population by 1,700. It was politically expedient.

There may be at least twenty-five things standing in MacPherson’s way. Twenty-five of the thirty-six county DAs in the state have endorsed MacPherson’s opponent, John Kroger. That may be because Measure 11 shifts power to the DAs and they’re not inclined to give it up.

Please consider an alternative explanation – they have see that Measure 11 has prevented many robberies, assaults, kidnappings, child molestations, rapes and murders by keeping in prison violent criminals who previously would have received short sentences or even probation without Measure 11. According to the RAND report on Measure 11, 35 percent of people sentenced for Measure 11 crimes prior to the passage of Measure 11 received probation sentences.

Still, there may be room for a degree of sentencing compromise. Andy Olson: “The court has got to have some discretion.”

As mentioned above, the court has some discretion. See SB 1049 and HB 2379, modifications to Measure 11 which were strongly supported by Crime Victims United.

Right now, mandatory sentences apply only to the most violent crimes. This fall, Oregon voters will be asked to approve new ones for meth dealing, identity theft, and other offenses. Not one, but two ballot measures on the subject will ask voters to further the work of Measure 11.

And one of those Measures was put on the ballot by . . . Greg Macpherson! Great, he can have it both ways.

Howard Rodstein Crime Victims United