Oregon lawmakers will face conflicting proposals about curbing the growing costs of state prisons while maintaining public safety, reports the Statesman Journal. Among proposals advanced by a blue-ribbon commission are changes in some criminal sentences and other steps, such as allowing earned time for some inmates who cannot have it now. The report drew a sharp dissent from John Foote, Clackamas County district attorney, a commission member who argued that lawmakers should leave untouched the sentences that voters approved in ballot measures in 1994 and 2008. The 11-member commission sent its findings to Gov. John Kitzhaber, who appointed it to look at those growing costs. Action will be up to lawmakers, who can change voter-approved sentences only with two-thirds majorities. Kitzhaber incorporated some of its proposals, such as more money for community corrections and drug courts, into the 2013-15 budget he presented to lawmakers Nov. 30.
The commission got help from the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States, which has done similar work in other states. Justice Paul De Muniz of the Oregon Supreme Court, who led the effort, said, “Now is the time, and this is the most data gathering that has been done. We can formulate potential policies based not on anecdotes but on research on outcomes.” The report proposes that second-degree robbery, second-degree assault, and first-degree sex abuse either be removed from the 22 violent crimes that require mandatory minimum prison sentences — originally approved in 1994 as Measure 11 — or that mandatory minimums for those crimes be reduced to three years.