Battle of the November Crime Measures

The ballot measures for November are now being nailed down. An interesting tussle will develop between the legislative referral contained in SB 1087 and the citizen initiative reflected in Initiative Petition 40 (IP 40). IP 40, begun in 2006, establishes mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug dealers, identity thieves, burglars, auto thieves, and forgers.

This citizen initiative was carried out because the leaders of the legislature have, for years, allowed all of these criminals to get presumptive sentences of probation. That is right: do the crime and get a get-out-of-jail free pass.

The mandatory minimum sentences are not life threatening: they hold criminals accountable in state prisons from 14 to 36 months for the above-listed crimes, with no early release.

IP 40 also requires that the state be responsible for these criminals and that the state fully compensate counties for any costs of pre-trial incarceration as to these criminals.

The legislative leadership, who have given these criminals probation for all these years, suddenly saw the light during the last special session and referred a much weaker version to the ballot, in SB 1087. This referral contains sentences which are better than the current ones, but which are still very weak: probation for all first-time convictions except a handful of illegal drug barons. Street drug dealers such as your back alley meth dealers get probation, even for repeat convictions.

In its referral, the legislature has ballyhooed the authorization of treatment for drug affected criminals. So, their additional message is: if you need drug treatment, commit a crime. Otherwise, these seriously under-funded treatment programs will likely not be available to you.

The SB 1087 legislative referral also contains a poison pill provision that says if it gets one vote more than IP 40, IP 40 is cancelled.

The essence is this: IP 40 gives drug dealers, identity thieves, auto thieves, and burglars mandatory prison sentences. The legislative referral cancels the mandatory sentences.

As taxpayers, we want government to be cost effective. The legislative referral is proposed as a viable alternative to IP 40. However, instead of simply making the criminal justice system more efficient to save taxpayers’ money, the legislature continues to give us weak justice on the basis that we cannot afford real justice.

But, what taxpayers want is to save their own money – not to give the legislature the opportunity to spend public safety dollars on something else. Many studies have shown that failing to remove serious criminals from the streets costs citizens more per person than actively incarcerating the prisoners. That is, for each dollar the state spends incarcerating bad guys, citizens save more than that dollar in reduced society costs. The most obvious costs are the direct costs imposed on crime victims, but society pays other costs: security services, alarm systems, increased insurance rates, increased costs of goods as merchants recover for thievery, increased costs for identity theft protection programs, etc.

There surely is a point of diminishing returns in government investment of public safety as opposed to savings to the citizenry. Sadly, we are nowhere near that point in Oregon.

So, reject the poison pill legislative referral and vote yes on IP 40, so we can do to drug dealers and identity thieves what our Measure 11 has done to violent criminals: pull them off the streets and dramatically reduce the crime rate.

Kevin L. Mannix is a former legislator, author of Measure 11, and President of the Oregon Anti-Crime Alliance, a new organization formed to fight crime.