By Amanda Waldroupe, Staff Writer
Last month, the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission released an in-depth and critical study of Oregon’s mandatory minimum sentencing law, Measure 11.
The Justice Commission, composed of legislators, prosecutors, defenders and others involved in criminal justice and charged with monitoring Oregon’s public safety sector, spent one year collecting and analyzing data from the 16 years that Measure 11 has been on the books.
The 83-page report made a number of findings, including who receives Measure 11 sentences, how the law is applied in each of Oregon’s 36 counties, how many people are indicted with Measure 11 crimes but subsequently charged with lesser crimes, and other ways in which Measure 11 has affected Oregon’s criminal justice system.
In all respects, the study found that Measure 11 is not working the way Oregonians were told it would when they voted on the measure in 1994. The report “makes a fair case that it falls short of reaching all of the objectives,” says Department of Corrections director Max Williams.
Measure 11 was sold to voters as a tough-on-crime measure giving prosecutors the power to giving longer prison sentences to the worst of the worst criminals to protect society and victims.
Mandatory minimum sentences requiring a specific prison sentence for a crime, no matter the circumstances, would create consistency in sentencing across the state. And the specter of those long sentences would deter potential criminals from committing crimes.
But many advocates argue the Justice Commission’s report debunks that argument for Measure 11 in its entirety.
“At this point, it’s clear,” that Measure 11 is not working the way it should, says David Rogers, the executive director of the advocacy organization Partnership for Safety and Justice.
Measure 11 has always been a hot-button issue for both tough-on-crime conservatives and liberals arguing that it is too costly and ineffective.
So the Justice Commission’s study leaves one to wonder: Has enough evidence mounted to give opponents of Measure 11 the steam to drive reform?
“People talk about it all the time,” Rogers says. “There are definitely people actively talking about the need to address Measure 11 at the Capitol.”
The Justice Commission’s report is the second critical report on Measure 11 to be released within the past year. Last summer, former Governor Ted Kulongoski’s Reset Cabinet, a group that investigated ways for Oregon to save money, reviewed the measure and recommended that Oregon rein in its prisons spending in order to have a stable budget. One of the main ways to do that, the report said, was to make changes to Measure 11. Continue reading