The Oregonian featured a great article by State Representative Jeff Barker (D-28) last Friday. Here is part of the article:
In its March 3 editions, The Oregonian editorial board insinuated that the recent one-day-a-week closure of the courts, reductions in state troopers and cuts to police training are the result of Oregon’s sentencing structure (“On public safety, Oregon loses its balance”). That is simply not the case. Unlike many states, in Oregon we incarcerate only those offenders who are the worst of the worst. Only about 20 percent of the state’s convicted felons end up behind prison walls. Who are these offenders? Of the approximately 13,700 inmates in our state prisons, 9,600 are incarcerated for violent crimes, 2,400 are repeat property offenders, and the majority of the remaining 1,700 are serious drug manufacturers or dealers. There are absolutely no offenders in the state system who are incarcerated only for drug use or drug possession, and until the recent passage of Measure 57, most property offenders were ineligible for prison until their fifth crime. Even with the passage of Measure 57, the incarceration of repeat property offenders is subject to judicial discretion, not mandatory prison sentences.
Under these circumstances, opening the front doors of our prisons to pay for more officers, training and judicial proceedings would be counterproductive. Letting offenders out of prison early would result in more crime. Individuals with a history of criminal behavior are far more likely to commit a new crime than are individuals without a criminal history.
In my experience as a state representative and retired police lieutenant, the state’s prosecutors, law enforcement officers, crime victims and others the editorial board referred to as the “prison lobby” have worked closely with the Legislature to ensure that our sentencing policies are fair and responsible while providing adequate protection for Oregonians. This includes helping to craft changes to Measure 11 authorizing optional probation for nearly all first-time offenders who have committed second-degree person crimes. This change has saved the state upwards of $70 million in additional incarceration costs.
What are the costs of not incarcerating the people who actually go to prison in Oregon –violent criminals and serious repeat property offenders? We know that for each $1 million we spend on incarcerating violent prisoners, the economic benefit alone is more than $4 million. For most property offenders, the economic savings is about $200,000 saved for each $1 million spent locking them up. This doesn’t even begin to address the social and psychological costs of crime.
Over the past two decades, Oregon has enjoyed an unprecedented 47 percent decrease in violent crime rates…