Salem, Ore–“The State of Oregon is preparing to release almost one third of its entire prison population and it is a recipe for disaster,” said Tara Lawrence, Executive Director of the Oregon Anti-Crime Alliance (OAA). Lawrence, who served formerly as Sherman County District Attorney, now heads the OAA, an advocacy group for crime victims and criminal justice reform. Citing a series of news stories, capped by a front page feature in last Sunday’s OREGONIAN newspaper that detailed the portions of House Bill 3508 which are causing crime victims’ advocates grave concern. “This law was sold to many legislators as giving low-end, non-violent offenders the chance to earn an extra 10% of their sentence, in addition to the 20% they already can receive,” Lawrence explained. “But as the OREGONIAN detailed more than 500 violent felons are being proposed for early release by the state Department of Corrections.”
Because of the way the legislation was written, and despite vocal opposition from OAA, MADD, Crime Victims United and many elected district attorneys, HB 3508 does not allow judges to consider any conduct after the original sentence date in evaluating whether the inmate should get an extra 10% off. “This isn’t earned time at all,” Lawrence said, “There are cases where inmates have taken guards hostage, downloaded child pornography onto prison computers, and even run a drug ring inside the prison and under the way this law is written prosecutors cannot offer this evidence and judges may not consider it.”
Lawrence also pointed to the re-traumatizing of victims who were told they had seen the last of the man who violated them, only to receive a notice required by law to be sent from the district attorney’s office notifying them of the possible early release.
“This was sold as a way of saving $6 million in the 09-11 biennia,” Lawrence explained, “But the costs accrued by judges, court staff, prosecutors, and public defenders – who are newly appointed (and paid $300 to $400 for each hearing) in every case are going to far outweigh any possible savings. This is penny-wise and pound-foolish since some of the worst offenders, child molesters sentenced to 20-year terms but who are getting possible early release on accompanying non-Measure 11 charges, won’t be released “early for a decade or longer. Where’s the cost savings in our near future?” Lawrence asks.
Claims by some legislators that they’ll “fix” the law in the upcoming February 2010 Special Legislative Session ring hollow, Lawrence says. “By that time all of the hearings will have already occurred, the victims will have already been re-traumatized, and the horse will be long out of the barn. What we need to learn from this mess is that Oregonians have made it clear they want Truth in Sentencing and they expect the Legislature to listen to them.”
Read the original Oregonian article here.