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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Take your pick

While we're writing up the Oregon ballot measures two by two, the most obvious pairing is Measures 57 and 61 -- the dueling "tough-on-crime" measures. Both will require tens of millions to be invested in building more prisons, and that's enough to turn some folks off on both measures. But even the ACLU types may hesitate before voting no on both, because there's some adolescent game-playing built into these measures that may make even the bleedingest of bleeding-heart liberals hold their noses and vote yes on one of them.

First, let's get the players identified on the scorecard. Measure 57 is the Legislature's tough-on-crime measure. Measure 61 is the right-wing initiative machine's super-duper-tough-on-crime measure. Measure 57 increases sentences for some categories of drug and property crimes, but it still leaves plenty of room for probation, treatment, yada yada, and the tweaker's likely to be back in your yard a few hours after the cops hauled him out of there the first time. Kind of like now.

Measure 61, on the other hand, don't need no steekeen' treatment or probation. It locks people up and throws away the key for crimes like first-offense burglary, and it's going to cost a gajillion dollars to implement. Moreover, as we build more and more warehouses for human beings, the chances for rehabilitating people with drug problems go from slim to barely perceptible. I'm as frustrated as anyone with the longstanding, disgraceful failure of the local criminal justice and social service systems to deal adequately with drug addiction and property crime, but some of the sentences Measure 61 imposes seem a bit harsh.

Whatever your druthers on these two may be, Oregonians have to shake (or hang) their heads at the way law is made in these parts. Here we have another case of the hard-core conservative folks shaming the Legislature into doing something that it should have done on its own in the first place. The politicians in Salem no doubt saw that Measure 61 stood a good chance of passing, and so they suddenly took an interest in crafting a measure that would take fewer and much smaller steps in the same general direction. The clear hope in Salem is that kinder, gentler Measure 57 will cancel out mean, old Measure 61.

And here is where the pitiful gamesmanship comes in. If both measures pass, the one with the highest vote total in favor wins, and the other one has no effect. And so if you think both measures are a bad idea, you may want to think twice about voting no on the wimpier Measure 57, which to you would likely be the lesser of two evils.

Having lived in Oregon for more than 30 years now, I have become weary of our state's screwy initiative process. Some years, it seems like an enormous waste of time and money. Directly competing ballot measures that require hours of strategic thinking before voting disgust me. But if activist segments of the citizenry use the initiative process to force the Legislature to do the will of the people, I guess it can't be all bad.

Comments (26)

I'll probably end up voting for 57 myself. I think 57 is to soft but 61 is to harsh in places.

As a matter of policy, I would like both of these to fail, since I think they will drain resources from education. However much we may want to be tough on crime, we are one of only a handful of states that spend more on our jail system than our public university system.

But polling indicates that both are likely to pass the 50% mark - and there is no organized campaign opposing either measure. As you say, our screwy ballot measure politics.

So I'll be holding my nose and voting for 57 since it costs less and has some emphasis on treatment rather than just incarceration.

Both are too harsh and cannot be practically applied, ask anyone in the courthouse who has read and mapped out the text and their implications. 57 was a response to You-Know-Who's insane proposal, a compromise you might say.
Don't believe the gossip when you hear 57 is too soft. It's soft like bleach is compared to Draino.
You think Measure 11 is harsh? If 61 passes, negotiations will have to take place b/c of the masses that will be imprisoned in Oregon.

I agree with Chris on his point of the lesser of two evils.

Just for fun, take a look at what a first time offender would get for the following convictions under 61 (keep in mind hundreds of these come through the system every month, some having 50+ count indictments):

ID Theft: 36 months PRISON (No AIP)
Forg 1: 18 months PRISON (No AIP)

What these defs currently receive is probation, and up to a month local time.

From a budget standpoint 61 is insane.
Your tax dollars will be used to house common criminals at DOC for extended periods of time.

Once again the legislature sat on their hands until something over the top was handed to them. Now there is a swell chance that another unfunded mandate will be handed to state and local jails that have neither the budget or resources to provide for either law. I wonder what monies the measure sets aside for our closed jails or new jails to make this all practical and possible? I fear it will take more money than people realize.

The mentally ill currently occupy jail space that could be used for crooks. Dammasch State Hospital closed in 1995, and has not been replaced. The only answer now is to incarcerate the mentally ill.

I would much rather spend my tax money on treating and housing the mentally ill, so that local jails could afford and have the space to hang on to crooks. Many Sheriffs in Oregon will admit publicly that inmates with mental illness occupy at least 25% of their total inmate population.

A Wapato State Hospital might be the answer since the building remains empty, instead of creating new knee-jerk laws. Besides, sending people with mental illness to jail for lack of mental health treatment facilities is just wrong. More wrong than the early release of a tweaker.

To me the problem with both of these measures is a question of what do we want out of our "corrections" system. What do we want that system to do? Are we simply punishing people who violate social norms, and feeling better because those bad people are kept away. Or are we trying to rehabilitate people, and reintroduce them to society. Both of these measures just want to lock up the "bad" people. The problem for me is that as people come out of these extended lock ups, what do they do? Are they still addicted? Do they still deal with mental illnesses alone? Do they have any skill sets that allow them to succeed in daily life? Or do we just spend hundreds of millions to tell ourselves we are safer at night?

I'm voting no on both of these knee-jerk moronic answers to crime. Warehousing never worked and is just another draconian idea that should have expired with the muzzle loaders.
Why not legalize drugs and use the profit for rehabilitation? Funny that the Anti-drug industry is larger than the illegal drug industry, it is so bad even Dr's are afraid to write prescription medication for chronic pain patients.

57 is typical of the legislative gamesman ship we have seen in this state for far too long.

61 isn't perfect, but it will get my vote.

And here's a hint to the bleeding hearts: Warehousing DOES work. No body in the can is currently setaeling ids, of uttering forged instruments.

False: Identity theft can happen from Jail.

The number one predictor of a child's likelihood of winding up in prison is having a father who did time in prison (felony time, prison rather than jail). As soon as we start really ramping up incarceration of women -- another state where Oregon is a leader! -- I expect that we'll see that's even more devastating.

In other words, senselessly long incarceration is the gift that keeps on giving, because you may have warehoused ONE guy -- for a while -- but meanwhile, you are turning his kids into "The Arguments for Tougher Sentencing, The Next Generation."

Society's use and abuse of prison has a lot of parallels with drug use and abuse. Used intelligently, drugs can help you to manage problems. When abused, drugs that are otherwise health-promoting can themselves become destroyers of health. There are definitely people who need to be in prison until they are not a threat to others and society. But when society becomes addicted to incarceration, it takes ever bigger jolts to satisfy the craving for "tough on crime" punishments, and the effect is to create more crime rather than less, as prison is the industry that creates its own future customer base.

Both initiatives are misguided but a "No" on both will likely lead to the worse of the two passing, so, yes, we need people to vote YES on 57.

"Having lived in Oregon for more than 30 years now, I have become weary of our state's screwy initiative process". Those from the East coast have never understood true democracy...Let George do it and what a mess the East coast has.

I will be voting against the Mannix measure because it is harsh on drugs.

Drugs should be taken out of the school yard and put in state stores where there is no incentive to sell drugs to kids.

De-criminalize and tax them!

You don't see pushers pushing booze on kids Sure they get it, but I keep hearing that drugs are easier to get in school than booze. Moving street drugs from the street to state stores will end this.

Let's look at this from another angle, deterrence.

I spent the past 4 years in hell, better known as Phoenix. In Jan of this year we implemented the most aggressive anti-illegal immigrant bill in the country. Whether or not you agree with it is not the point. What happened is. Start in October of last year, the illegals started leaving the state in droves. So many so that the consular office in Phoenix had to hire more staff to handle the flow of people wanting to return to Mexico. When I left AZ in July, that combined with economic factors were forcing many illegals to leave the state.

Is it possible that by imposing overly harsh punishments to these crimes, we would see a reduction in crime in general as the criminals leave for more crime friendly states.

Just a thought.

If you're gonna lock em up for longer terms, provide training in green tech or something useful. Without post-prison life skills training and opportunity, cell doors will ceaselessly revolve.

MP, yes, it's possible. However, there's no evidence for it. There's also no evidence that any evidence was used to calibrate the proposal in the manner you suggest.

By your logic, why not simply go back to the original definition of felonies: capital crimes? After all, if you believe in deterrence, then the logic suggests that more deterrence must be more effective.

What's weird is that property crimes in Oregon are decreasing now and have been generally doing so since 1987 -- so what we have right now must be an adequate deterrent, yes? Why would we want to pay the cost of incarceration to reverse a policy that seems to be working?

If either of these measures pass, instead of building new prisons here, I say we outsource corrections. There must be inexpensive prisons in other parts of the world that would be more than happy to have our criminals renditioned to them.

Wonder of Kevo Mannix would go for that?

I'm all for 61, as Jack says, if 57 passes, there will be no change. I loved his (accurate) example of a "...tweaker's likely to be back in your yard a few hours after the cops hauled him out of there the first time." Too true, too true.

As for young's question "...Are we simply punishing people who violate social norms,..." er, no, we are punishing people who violate laws like ID theft, car theft, burglary, etc.

If you want no change, vote for 57 and keep watching your car, car stereo, TV and other property disappear. If you are tired of being ripped off, vote for 61. If you do the crime, get ready to do the time.

Clerk 06: Apparently you haven't been screwed by someone's forgery that might take over $100 thousand out of your savings, or even $1000 dollars. 18 months is nothing for the crime. And you forgot to mention the reduction in time for other circumstances, like "good behavior". And I agree that for many that might have their "first charge" that they have committed that crime or similar several times before.

Take for example the many local public officials lately that have forged their names on checks repeatedly, taking money out of public coffers. I do not regard those cases as first time offenses, they do it repeatedly and know each time that it is unlawful.

I'm voting against both of these. They'll both be very costly and I doubt they'll solve the problem.

Just in case anyone is interested in serious research into excessive sentencing's pernicious consequences, here's a story about how long it can take for government to start recovering from sentencing manias:

Look...Jack is right this is about the referendum system started by William U'Ren (double points for anyone who can say who he was) but the initiative system has brought about some of the most "progressive" measures in the country, from the death with dignity to a number of other measures, not all of which you may agree with, but if we live in a populist democracy you need to have some respect for the process.
When the legislature fails to act as they did with violent criminals in the 90s you got Measure 11. I didn't like it in 1994 but I think its been very effective now.
Measure 61 is a mandatory minimum law for first time offenders on high end property offenses. Some people think those criminals need hard time right out of the gate. As a prosecutor for 20+ years I don't. Remember that currently almost 80% of convicted felons don't go to prison at all. Hopefully they get treatment with probation, but treatment is woefully underfunded. Measure 57 would mandate treatment. The choice is not incaraceration or treatment, it's often incarceration AND treatment. Reflect on any serious substance abusers you know and what it took to get them sober.
Measure 57 gives judges the OPTION to give repeat preoperty offenders 2 to 3 threes in prison but doesn't mandate it. Measre 57 also covers a wide range of crimes than 61.
Doing anything, whether treatment education or incarceration costs money, so let's dro the guns or butter drama about not being able to afford both. You need both.
Measure 57 is endorsed by a remarkably diverse group ranging from the criminal defense bar to almost every Oregon District Attorney.
The polls show both of these passing by considerable margins. If you vote no on both you are probably voting yes on 61.
If you are interested in more click on my name which takes you to my blog and an op-ed that ran yesterday in the Daily Astorian.

As an attorney in private practice who does a lot of criminal defense, acts as the executive director of a criminal defense attorney consortium in Washington County, and has a contract with the state to provide direct defense services, I agree with DA Josh Marquis.

Yes on 57, no on 61 is the correct vote. Its an easy call.

Judges need more sentencing authority in these cases, not less. M 57 gives judges more power to craft an appropriate sentence, AND, mandates funding for treatment options.

George wrote:
"What's weird is that property crimes in Oregon are decreasing now and have been generally doing so since 1987 -- so what we have right now must be an adequate deterrent, yes? "

What has decreased is "reported" property crimes. I believe that people have steadily been trained not to call in many crimes as it is obvious that nothing will be done. Back in the good ol days we used to think there were police tracking down the crooks and judges locking them up. Now we all know better so we don't bother unless we intend to file an insurance claim.

So, you have a belief that the reported crime statistics are inadequate when they show crime going down, but are gospel when they show crime going up ... oooookay, then.

"Native Oregonian" wrote:
"If you want no change, vote for 57 and keep watching your car, car stereo, TV and other property disappear. If you are tired of being ripped off, vote for 61. If you do the crime, get ready to do the time."

You think you're being ripped off now? Just wait for the construction bills for all of the prison beds that will need to be built as a result of either of these backwards, counterproductive measures. That's the true rip-off.

You right-wingers perplex me. You want to throw the book t everyone from jaywalkers to rapists. But once the government announces plans to build a prison in your neck of the woods, you'd scream bloody murder over perceived intrusion on your "property rights". Insanity.

"Aaron" writes 'You right-wingers perplex me. You want to throw the book t everyone from jaywalkers to rapists.'

Say what? Measure 57 isn't about jaywalking, it's about the SECOND time someone breaks into your HOUSE and steals you blind.

Butying into this guns or butter false dichotomy will leave you hungry AND victimized. Only someone out of touch with reality would say our existing sentencing system is okey dokey. If you don't beleive me, come down to the courthouse and watch some sentencing.


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