by Betsy Johnson
May 04, 2013 at 11:00 AM, updated May 04, 2013 at 11:04 AM
House Bill 3194 would move felons from the state's prisons to "community corrections." That's an umbrella term that can include county jail or any number of programs --with varying degrees of supervision.
In community corrections, these offenders would receive services that are supposed to change their behavior, educate or train them for good jobs, and turn them into law-abiding taxpayers. This is called "justice reinvestment."
"If you want a good return on dollars, spend it on prevention," Gov. John Kitzhaber told KOIN (6) in a recent interview.
His idea of prevention is to not sentence certain future felons to mandatory minimums required under the voter-approved Measure 11. The lucky felons who would catch this break would be those convicted of first-degree sexual abuse, second-degree assault and second-degree robbery.
The state's county sheriffs, police chiefs and district attorneys all oppose HB3194 because they don't believe money would be saved and reinvested. Nothing would go toward community corrections. It's the public that would pay the price when more convicted felons hit the street. It's ordinary citizens who would have their homes burglarized, their cars stolen, their physical well-being assaulted by felons who have been given a pass to avoid Measure 11.
So who's in favor of the Oregon Public Safety Package? First and foremost, the Pew Center on the States, a think tank that is trying to change American attitudes toward crime and justice. In Pew's world, prisons cause crime -- not the other way around.
In the past year, Pew's experts have coached Kitzhaber's Commission on Public Safety as it developed the report that led to HB3194. It's curious, then, that at hearings for HB3194, nobody from Pew has uttered a word about California's prison realignment plan. Much of California's prison realignment sounds like Oregon's Public Safety Package. Key similarities: Shifting prison inmates to county jails and more use of alternative sentencing, such as electronic ankle bracelets or home detention.
California's prison realignment has been in effect since October 2011. How's it working?
Not so good. The best that supporters of California's realignment plan can say is that it's still a work in progress. Supporters have tried to reassure residents that parolees don't pose a special risk. They point to a pre-realignment study of four California cities that showed "only 22 percent of total arrests" were for parolees.
But the state's major news media have noted post-realignment property crime increases in various California cities of all sizes. An examination by Los Angeles County found that 26 percent of people released on community supervision between October 2011 and March 2012 were arrested on a new crime within six months.
Any link between prison realignment and victims of violent crime has become a regular feature of news coverage. The Los Angeles Times has also reported on the growing problem of sex offenders cutting off their GPS monitoring bracelets with little or no consequences.
Over at the website for the Pew Center on the States, if you look at public safety news for California you won't find much devoted to prison realignment. One brief gushes about California voters overturning the "notorious 'Three Strikes' law." Among the felonies no longer considered a third strike is being a felon in possession of a firearm. Amazing, isn't it, how many of the same people who favor strict gun laws seem to oppose punishment for those who break gun laws? In Pew's world of white, educated professionals who don't have to live in high-crime neighborhoods, felons deserve multiple times at bat.
Pew's website entry for Oregon praises the state's efforts at public safety reform. There's a quote from former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul De Muniz, who chaired the governor's Public Safety Commission: "Our prison population is growing, primarily with lower-risk drug and property offenders, and this growth is threatening our balanced portfolio at the expense of prevention, supervision and rehabilitation."
In Oregon, most felons are not sentenced to prison. Any lower-risk drug or property offender who lands in prison has done something to deserve it. But De Muniz characterizes this as threatening "our balanced portfolio."
Gov. Kitzhaber needs to remember why Oregon residents embraced Measure 11. It has nothing to do with dollar signs in an investment portfolio.
Democrat Betsy Johnson represents Scappoose in the Oregon Senate.
read the piece on the Oregonian site