Prozanski: Smart on crime measure increases public safety, reduces taxpayer expense

Charlie Burr

Writing in the Register-Guard earlier this month, Senator Floyd Prozanski makes the case for how smart-on-crime measures can be an effective tool to increase safety for those who work in prisons while reducing taxpayer costs and recidivism rates. Prozanski provides context for HB 3508, a measure to allow eligible inmates the opportunity to earn time by displaying good behavior or successfully participating in programs, just as Oregon has done in select cases for more 20 years.

And unlike the counter proposal offered by Steve Doel and Kevin Mannix, the initiative does not take an arbitrary, one-size-fits-all approach to inmate release that would have the practical effect of rewarding bad behavior.

From the Register-Guard:

The Oregon Legislature last session faced the choices of cutting funds for schools, universities, highways, the environment, economic development, the elderly, the sick, the disabled, public safety and our state prison system. We chose a balanced approach of budget cuts ($2 billion) and tax increases ($734 million), with tax increases limited to those most able to afford them.

This balanced approach included reduced funding for the Department of Corrections, which accounts for approximately 62 percent of Oregon’s public safety budget. Over the last 20 years, the department’s budget has quadrupled, making it one of the fastest-growing state budgets.

The state spends more general fund dollars on prisons than it does on higher education. Oregon’s prison system has grown from 4,800 beds in 1989 to more than 13,800 beds today.

A significant portion of this growth can be attributed to a 1994 ballot initiative that lengthened prison sentences and eliminated judicial discretion, but did not provide funding to pay for more prisoners.

The only way to reduce significantly the corrections budget is to reduce the number of inmates. We cannot shut prisons down for a day, as can be done with other state agencies. We cannot reduce the already-low — less than $3 a day — cost of food, cut medical expenses for inmates, or overcrowd the prisons without having a federal judge take over our prison system, as has happened in California. A federal takeover would be disastrous, amounting to a financial black hole for Oregon, just like California faces.

One way to cut prison costs responsibly is to reduce prison sentences for eligible inmates who earn time by displaying good behavior or successfully participating in programs. For more than 20 years, Oregon has allowed some inmates to reduce the length of their prison sentences through earned time.

Oregon is one of about 30 states that allow inmates to earn sentence reductions, as does the federal government.

In Oregon, not all inmates are eligible for earned time, and not all inmates who are eligible earn it. In fact, the average inmate earns approximately 60 percent of the earned time for which the prisoner is eligible. Mandatory minimum sentences do not qualify for earned time.

Research shows what common sense assumes: Having the ability to reward an inmate for good behavior and successful participation in instructional and behavioral programs actually increases safety for those who work in our prisons and reduces recidivism rates. In other words, earned time makes good public policy.

By passing House Bill 3508, the Legislature decided to increase inmates’ potential earned time for offenders convicted of certain offenses from 20 percent to 30 percent. We also excluded inmates convicted of specific crimes from receiving any additional earned time, including assault in the fourth degree and criminally negligent homicide.

In February, I expect the Legislature will add crimes to the exclusion list that were unintentionally omitted. The 10 percent additional earned time is a temporary provision that ends July 1, 2013.

In a Nov. 29 guest viewpoint, Doug Harcleroad, lobbyist for Kevin Mannix’s pro-­incarceration group, and Steve Doell, director of Crime Victims United, would like Oregonians to believe that they presented a well-crafted alternative to HB 3508. They did not.

Harcleroad and Mannix proposed that the Legislature simply let all low- and medium-risk offenders out of prison six months early, regardless of whether the inmate had earned early release.

That plan did not have the support of the law enforcement community, including the Oregon District Attorneys Association, who disowned the plan during the session. It was tantamount to a get-out-of-jail-free card.

That arbitrary plan would have rewarded bad behavior. Why did they favor such a plan? As stated in the opinion piece, they oppose the concept of earned time. Their plan made no sense then; it was not in the best interest of citizens’ safety, and it rightly was rejected.

Read the rest here.

Discuss.

Comments

  • LT (unverified)
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    Gee, smart on crime makes more sense than "tough on crime". What a concept!

  • John Silvertooth (unverified)
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    Prozanski is one of the few in the Legislature that makes sense on criminal justice. Another is Chip Shields- other Democrats would be smart to tale notes and speak out.

    What's John Minnis think about early release these days?

  • Roy (unverified)
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    Of course any efforts to rehabilitate and change bad behaviors should be supported. I have concerns however about pushing folks out early to "save" hard costs. Especially when the programs that now exist in prison have such a poor record for success.

    When crooks re-offend the costs can skyrocket for us all, although maybe not on any budget books kept by state government. Right now our state court judges do everything they can to prevent clogging our prisons with new inmates. They use probation, local jails, bracelet programs, etc.. to make sure only the worst of the worst ever do real time. Only those most unlikely to change behavior (and M11 folks) go away to the big house.

    Make no mistake, inmates know how to play the game for early release consideration. The behavior and program attendance exhibited on the inside is not always indicative of behavior once released. Figure how to forecast future behavior with some accuracy, and then begin a plan for early exits. It will save us all a few bucks in the long run.

  • Galen (unverified)
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    You would think that we would want to try and convert as many inmates to productive citzens as possible. Anyone who is in for even mandatory minimums, will be getting out and should be treated as such. Brut force is not always the answer when you are dealing with human beings. Mannnix should stick to non-social issues.

  • John Silvertooth (unverified)
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    Of course the number one indicator of likely recidivism is literacy- what a novel concept- teach people to read- maybe that should be a key- there are many people there for non-violent drug offenses and even driving while suspended that could be released en masse with little effect on the state.

  • Roy (unverified)
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    "there are many people there for non-violent drug offenses and even driving while suspended that could be released en masse with little effect on the state"... With all due respect John, it is hard to believe anyone would agree with this.

    The approach suggested by the Senator is not a breakthrough idea. Far from it. Of course programs and education make sense, but they a cost a lot of money. Releasing inmates early by saying they have the tools they need, when they really don't because the funding is not there for the necessary tools or programs, is a huge mistake. It is a desperate move in the wake of yet more skyrocketing costs.

  • Galen (unverified)
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    Incarceration is much more complex than simple costs. If you wish to live in a free society there are many factors that must be considered. Just as in the courts. These are legitimate functions of government and most lay people have no idea what is needed to effectively deal with criminals while not violating the rules a free society should follow. It is interesting though that Red and Blues follow lines differnt than their beliefs in other areas on this subject. Blues for example wish to control the power of the State against the accused and inmates as they seem to have a strong grasp of the implications of not doing so, something that is a nobel effort. Meanwhile the Reds support something out the book of satan where we should torture and molest and incarcerate people and give a damn about them forever and ever even if its for a minor infraction. After all according to the Reds government is always right when it comes to punishing people hard.

  • LT (unverified)
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    "These are legitimate functions of government "

    Galen, thanks for that admission!

    If 66 and 67 are defeated, what do you propose to make sure courts, state police, crime lab are not hurt by budget cuts?

    If "tough on crime no new taxes" were really a popular slogan with Oregon voters, Mannix would have been elected Gov. in 2002.

  • Morris_Todd (unverified)
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    Part of HB 3508 was limiting probation violations on felonies from 6 months to 2 months. Add the new 30% good time provisions to that and the sentence for a felony probation revocation is now 42 days.

    For those of us in the drug treatment community this is a disaster because there are no incentives for offenders to do programs like Drug Court. You may disagree with putting drug users in jail but without the threat of jail there is no incentive for people to do treatment. Why do a year long intensive program like Drug Court when you can simply do 42 days in jail?

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    For those of us in the drug treatment community this is a disaster because there are no incentives for offenders to do programs like Drug Court. You may disagree with putting drug users in jail but without the threat of jail there is no incentive for people to do treatment. Why do a year long intensive program like Drug Court when you can simply do 42 days in jail?

    I don't understand the "disaster" quotient here.

    If the person isn't eligible, based on the proscribed sections of the bill (successful program completion and good behavior) then they won't get parole. I'm missing exactly how drug users who haven't met this criteria--such as Drug Court if a judge so deems--will somehow not have this incentive.

  • Demodog (unverified)
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    This would be great if the inmates actually "earned" the time but the judge is not allowed to consider any of the good or bad they have done. One third of all prison inmates, including rapists and killers, are getting hearings for an extra 10 percent off in what has turned out to be a really stupid law. As the treatment advocate above pointed out it also takes away the ability of courts to enforce treatment programs. And just how many people are in Oregon prisons for drug possession?

  • Morris_Todd (unverified)
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    Carla, Sorry if my post was too much insider baseball. Drug Court is not a prison program. HB 3508 covers more than prison. It also covers probation revocation sentences for county jails. Probation is what most offenders in Oregon get in lieu of prison.

    Since all drug crimes in Oregon that involve personal possession are not subject to prison, the sentence is 18 months of probation with no more than 10 to 30 days county jail up front. If probation is revoked, for example by failing to go to treatment, the court before HB3508 was limited to giving 6 months in jail. Now the limit is 2 months with 10% more good time thus 42 days (60 days minus 30%).

    In order to "sell" drug addicts into the intensive drug treatment program defense attorneys and prosecutors offer incentive to do it. This incentive entails the criminal lawyers agreeing not to impose the 6 month sentence if Drug Court is completed. The defense attorneys know that in the long run these programs are more effective for their client and the prosecutor agrees since it is proven to reduces their caseload in the longterm. However, treatment personnel bemoan the fact that more people are not in the program. The lawyers tell me that 6 months oftentimes is not enough incentive to. By cutting the incentive from 6 months to 2 months I don't see why anybody would ever do intensive drug or alcohol treatment.

    Any criminal lawyers want to weigh in on this or offer a differnt view?

  • John Silvertooth (unverified)
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    Morris_Todd:

    Well I'm a criminal defense attorney or I used to be, and I will be glad to offer a different view.

    First, in terms of the big picture, if society is sincerely interested in addressing addiction treatment, drugs need to be legalized and these questions need to be addressed outside of the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system overall has not ever been a sucessful tool for helping individuals with treatment.

    It is always a long debate but I agree with Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State George Shultz who always maintained that there would be no serious progress on drug issues until drugs are legalized and the profit is taken out of addiction. For the sake of brevity I'll skip over this debate for the moment.

    The primary incentive for "drug court," like the DUII diversion program, is not to help people. It is to help clear the court dockets- although I am not convinced that it does. Oregon does not devote adequate resources on the treatment end. Many of the defendants (the ones that got caught) have what they call multiple diagnosis- this is they have more than one problem and often the other problems play a role in the addiction issues and of course the behavior issues that lead to the police encounter (getting caught). In other words they need a serious shrink not AA/NA or a drug counselor. Remember, who gets caught is also a function of where the police choose to patrol and who they choose to stop.

    My experience is the ones that succeed in drug court are the ones that don't need it (i.e. don't have serious addiction issues, i.e. smoking pot or don't have multiple diagnosis and have a good social network around them, including social skills and an education.) Also, these programs I have seen do not offer adequate treatment for the most serious issue- methamphetamines.

    I haven't seen that threatening people with jail time is much of a way to modify behavior except in a cosmetic way- the fact that these treatment providers even think that they need to threaten the defendants shows why so many of their efforts are unsucessful. If threatening people with jail time prevented crime there wouldn't be any would there? Completing a program is not a cure or have much effect on recidivism because most of the defenant's "issues" are not addressed and they are right back in the same situation they were to start with and likely unemployed. Of course this is not the goal- the goal is to lighten the court docket.

    Placing these casual or non-addicted users in the criminal justice system does accomplish one thing however. It introduces them to hard core addicts and the criminal element in the community. Send an 18 year old to AA or NA, especially in a smaller community, for a month or two and soon they will know of the recidivist criminals on a first name basis. I had one guy tell me he could go to any town in America and score drugs on the first night because he knew where to find them- at NA there would always be someone more that willing to fill their needs or know someone that could. Instead of ingratiating the casual or non-addicted user into this culture they should be isolated from it.

    Of course any counselor would tell you there is no such thing as a casual or non-addicted user- the pot smoker is the same as the hard core meth head. These are the same people that evaluate defendants and dictate their treatment. Usually their programs have a conflict in that they make money if treatment is ordered. Often times some feel the reason for so much failure in programs is because if the person fails and the is re-referred by the court the treatment providers makes more money.

    There's an old cowboy saying "Don't ask the Barber if you need a haircut." Our courts would be wise to have evaluations completed and progress assessed by a separate entity from the one that provides the treatment.

    Well this ought to get people ticked off. And by the way, I really got a kick out of your statement that: "The defense attorneys know that in the long run these programs are more effective for their client..." Ha Ha- you really don't think most of the indigent defense contractors do what's best for their clients do you? HA HA HA- It's too often about sucking up to the state to get your contract renewed and with the case loads required to even earn a modest salary those eligible will be pushed into diversions/drug courts for the same reason the courts do it to start with- economics.

    Peace out like the kids say and everyone knows the first rule in America from Tiger Woods to the kid on the corner- don't get caught.

  • Morris_Todd (unverified)
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    John_Silvertooth,

    I appreciate your perspective and years of service, but since legalizing drugs is not likely to happen anytime soon, I think that we need to use the criminal justice system to get people into treatment. Many of these kids are really young and they are on a course to self-destruction and the carrot does not work as well as the stick for a 20 yearold. (Also, since most people drive I am not anxious for me or my loved ones to share the road with them!)

    Your point about dual-diagnosis is valid but I think overstated. Dual diagonosis (chemical dependence + some psychological issue) is common but not the norm. Even so under HB 3508 why do psych treatment as a condition of felony probation if the penalty for not doing it is only 42 days?

  • Galen (unverified)
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    "Galen, thanks for that admission!

    If 66 and 67 are defeated, what do you propose to make sure courts, state police, crime lab are not hurt by budget cuts?"

    This is something to ask your legislator. This is their toy. Instead of putting off projects and freezing spending they plundered your money now they ask for more.

    John Silvertooth that was an excellent post based on reality. If we hope for progress we need to deal with reality not deny what needs to be done. We cannot fall into the lesser of two evils we must hold Salem's feet to the fire.

  • jrw (unverified)
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    Morris_Todd, I'm going to extend John's excellent discussion further. I am a middle school special education teacher who sometimes works with youth offenders who've been placed in a treatment program that sends kids to my school.

    Your statement I think that we need to use the criminal justice system to get people into treatment. Many of these kids are really young and they are on a course to self-destruction and the carrot does not work as well as the stick for a 20 yearold. does not reflect the reality. These middle school offenders I see are the future hard-core adult offenders, many of them--and all that putting the non-hard-core offenders such as some I see through the criminal justice program does is introduce them to the hard-core offenders, where they learn new skills from their mostly hard-core peers.

    Most of these kids are barely literate. Some come from multi-generational crime families, and they're working on building their street cred within the family. Frequently, the social workers working with them have starry-eyed dreams about making a difference through the criminal justice system. I see them interacting with their non-criminal peers, and the difference isn't happening. John's point that using the criminal justice system to force drug treatment on these kids isn't effective is, from my admittedly smaller anecdotal piece of reality, exactly correct.

    Additionally, I know a number of my students are drug-involved or live in drug-involved families. Neither the criminal justice system nor DHS is going to make a difference to these kids and families. Literacy, effective social community supports, parenting training, and job training would. But that would require society at large to give a damn about what happens to these people--and society doesn't, except to want to shove them behind jail walls so they don't have to deal with their problems.

  • Morris_Todd (unverified)
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    JRW,

    I really respect the work of people like you who work with these at risk youth, but the alternative argument to court mandated treatment for drug and alcohol offenders is not making treatment a part of the criminal justice system at all. So if someone commits Identity Theft to support a meth habit, they do there 10-30 days in jail and that's it? It may save the probation department and DAs money not having to monitor the offender but it certainly costs more for society in the longrun.

    Reading the text of the bill, the authors of HB3508 clearly believed in the rehabilitative aspects of treatment. My point is that they simply made rehabilitation for most felons in Oregon MORE difficult, since most felons in Oregon never see the inside of a prison and there only incentive to complete probation is to avoid 60 days in jail.

  • jrw (unverified)
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    Morris_Todd---nice goalpost shifting with this: I really respect the work of people like you who work with these at risk youth, but the alternative argument to court mandated treatment for drug and alcohol offenders is not making treatment a part of the criminal justice system at all. So if someone commits Identity Theft to support a meth habit, they do there 10-30 days in jail and that's it?.

    Someone who is committing identity theft to support a meth habit already falls within the hard-core ranks. Any middle school kid I see who's doing such a thing should not be placed in a general education setting, period--and if they're in that deep at that age, then they're past rehabilitation except at a very intensive level which should be dealt with differently. A kid for whom drug treatment intervention is going to be effective should have had intervention at a much earlier level to deal with the other factors involved that send the kid off to a meth habit. Do you actually have any experience or are you one of those starry-eyed rehab dreamers who's yet to see the whole situation?

    Go back and read what John wrote: My experience is the ones that succeed in drug court are the ones that don't need it (i.e. don't have serious addiction issues, i.e. smoking pot or don't have multiple diagnosis and have a good social network around them, including social skills and an education.) Also, these programs I have seen do not offer adequate treatment for the most serious issue- methamphetamines.

    I will second what John says here. So when you bring up identity theft to support a meth habit, you're already in an area where at least one, (two if you count me) person does not include these folks in an easy-to-solve-by-drug-court-diversion category. My experience in dealing with meth issues has an awful lot to do with grandparents who are dealing with grandkids whose parents can't give up the drugs even to care for their children. Those situations are completely and totally messy--and criminal diversion programs don't even begin to deal with those situations.

    So are you talking out of experience or are you talking out of ideology? Name some workable meth diversions, then. With numbers.

  • Morris_Todd (unverified)
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    JRW,

    1) Here are the stats on Drug Court http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05219.pdf

    2) Can you point me to provisions in HB 3508 which deal with juveniles? Because what I read dealt only with adult offenders who are in the criminal justice system already. While I agree that education and community support are important, the legislation deals with what to do once the horse has already gotten out.

    3) It amuses me that you think an A&D professional is a blurry eyed optimist, but that teaching people to read will make solve addiction issues.

  • jrw (unverified)
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    Morris--

    Here's what you wrote above:

    I think that we need to use the criminal justice system to get people into treatment. Many of these kids are really young and they are on a course to self-destruction and the carrot does not work as well as the stick for a 20 yearold.

    When I came back at you about ineffectiveness of treatment programs, based on what I saw, this is what you wrote in response:

    I really respect the work of people like you who work with these at risk youth, but the alternative argument to court mandated treatment for drug and alcohol offenders is not making treatment a part of the criminal justice system at all. So if someone commits Identity Theft to support a meth habit, they do there 10-30 days in jail and that's it?

    This sounds somewhat unresponsive to me, to be honest. For you, it's all about using the criminal justice system to shove drug offenders into treatment. To me, based on my experience, by the time they've gotten to the level of a meth habit, with identity theft crimes to their name, they're past the point where things such as drug court will be effective.

    And dude, yes, from what I've seen of alcohol and drug professionals (doing what? social worker? counselor? program administrator? administrative assistant?), I do find many of them to be fairly idealistic in the sense that Treatment Programs Will Solve Everything is the common point of view.

    Lovely little piece of snark here:

    It amuses me that you think an A&D professional is a blurry eyed optimist, but that teaching people to read will make solve addiction issues.

    To which I snark in return: Prevention, fella, prevention. Not a solution, prevention. Literacy is a pretty huge factor in the socio-economic equation. And the prevention equation--which I alluded to in that post--goes beyond teaching people to read. But hey, anything for a sound bite, hey? Reading comprehension can be a challenging skill. Sometimes it's a good idea to give it a try.

  • WalterF (unverified)
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    So do I have the right?

    The voters think Oregon is too soft on property crime and pass a measure (fifty-seven) to be harsher.

    The legislature delays implementation of that measure because of costs.

    The legislature then weakens the existing criminal justice sanctions that were in place before Measure 57 was even an issue.

    Tell me in a political sense how it is good for Democrats to first overrule the voters and then to do exactly the opposite of what the voters' intentions were?

  • mlw (unverified)
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    Walter's right. The policy implications are immaterial. The very same legislators that pushed M57 as an alternative to M61 - Prozanski and Shields - were the first to discard it when it suited their needs. That's dishonest. Worse, it's breaking faith with the voters. This will bite us on the next round of initiatives from Mannix.

    The worst is yet to come. None of these people will commit to supporting a reinstatement of M57 when the budget improves. If we're the party that plays bait and switch with the voters, we don't deserve to be in the majority and we will not long remain there.

  • Sam Houston Clinton (unverified)
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    A&D professional

    I'm so un-PC. I'll have to remember next time not to say "crooks", but to call them "organized crime professionals".

  • Shannon Wight (unverified)
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    Oregon spends more of its general fund dollars on corrections than any other state in the country according to the PEW Center on the States report 1 in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008. The same report found that Oregon was one of only five states that spends more on corrections than higher education. www.pewcenteronthestates.org/uploadedFiles/One%20in%20100.pdf

    This unsustainable trajectory in corrections spending is in large part due to the very people who are currently rallying against House Bill 3508: Kevin Mannix (through his lobbyist Doug Harcelroad), some district attorneys and Steve Doell.

    The 2009 Safety and Savings bill was and is supported by many. It was crafted by Senator Joanne Verger (D-North Bend), Representative Jeff Barker (D-Aloha and retired police lieutenant) and the often mentioned Senators Shields and Prozanski. It was also supported by a broad coalition of organizations and agencies including the Oregon Association of Community Corrections Directors and the Oregon State Police.

    The bill uses evidence-based practices and the phased-in implementation of Measure 57 to create savings. This money, nearly $50 million, was then re-invested into our public safety infrastructure: the Oregon State Police, the Oregon Youth Authority and the Oregon Domestic and Sexual Violence Services Fund, among others. There are sunsets on all of the provisions in the bill and the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission will be studying its impact on both savings and public safety.

    Oregon is one of many states who have seen prison costs skyrocket in recent years (Oregon’s Department of Corrections budget is at almost $1.5 billion) while other critical services are being cut. In an attempt to curb these costs Oregon along with twenty-five other states cut their corrections budget for 2010. Many enacted the same or similar policy changes used by the Oregon legislature.

    To read more on this read the Vera Institute of Justice’s, The Fiscal Crisis in Corrections: Rethinking Policies and Practices. www.vera.org/files/The-fiscal-crisis-in-corrections_July-2009.pdf

    The 2009 Safety and Savings Bill is a long overdue step in the right direction for Oregon when it comes to public safety. While the fiscal crisis created a necessity for the savings, in the long run Oregon may find ways to move us out of the notorious position revealed in the PEW report.

    Shannon Wight Associate Director Partnership for Safety and Justice

  • Morris_Todd (unverified)
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    Shannon three questions for one in the know

    1) I have already beat a dead horse talking about how Drug Court (which is an evidence based practice) will suffer based on probation revocations which don't affect the prison budget since they are dealt with at a local level, but I wonder your views on the part of the bill which limited probation violations from 6 months to 2 months and the lack of incentive for people to do treatment programs.

    2) Weren't the projected costs of Measure 57 actually substantially higher than they are turning out to be?

    <h2>3) You mention "some" district attorneys supported the bill. What is "some"? (Were any of the 5 major counties Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Marion or Lane on board?) My understanding is that there was a bill to cut their salaries if they did not support it and/or one proposed after the fact to cut it. Is that true?</h2>

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