Faced with a $78 million hole in the Oregon public safety budget, state legislators are proposing to save money by delaying a voter-approved measure requiring longer sentences for property thieves, reports The Oregonian. They want to release prisoners earlier for good behavior and ease penalties for people caught with small amounts of drugs. Lawmakers have spent months negotiating how Oregon might hold down prison costs while honoring the intent of voters who last year endorsed Measure 57, which imposed tougher sentences on property and drug crimes.
A pending bill would suspend Measure 57 terms for most people convicted of drug or property crimes until January 2012. State officials estimate that would save about $60 million over two years. The bill also would make nonviolent criminals eligible for early release based on good behavior. Estimated savings: $8 million. “I don’t like letting people out of jail,” said Rep. Jeff Barker, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a veteran of 31 years in law enforcement. “But the cuts are so devastating that we have to save money.”