Oregon: Mandatory Minimums Repealed For Drug Offenses; Probation Expanded For Marijuana

By Steve Elliott, Hemp News

OREGON: The Oregon Legislature has passed a broad criminal justice bill, HB 3194, that is projected to avert all of the state’s anticipated prison growth over the next decade. The bill repeals mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses, and expands the use of presumptive probation in marijuana offenses.

The Oregon House passed the measure last Wednesday by a vote of 40-18; the Oregon Senate approved it 19-11 on Monday.

Without action by the Legislature, Oregon’s prison population was projected to grow by 2,000 inmates in the next 10 years. This growth, fueled mostly by nonviolent drug offenses, would have cost taxpayers an additional $600 million.

In order to get Oregon a better return on its public safety dollars, state officials launched a bipartisan working group to analyze sentencing and corrections trends and to generate policy recommendations for the Legislature. The Oregon Commission on Public Safety used state-level data, the growing body of national research about what works in corrections, and meetings with criminal justice experts to develop the policy options that served as a foundation for HB 3194.

“Oregon’s public safety package reflects an emerging national consensus on criminal justice policy that locking up more nonviolent offenders for longer prison terms isn’t the best way to fight crime and reduce recidivism,” said Adam Gelb, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ public safety performance project.

“State leaders crafted a package of sentencing and corrections reforms that further target Oregon’s prison space on serious violent criminals, cut prison costs, and shift the savings into local public safety efforts provfen to do a better job stopping crime before it happens,” Gelb said.

Through evidence-based sentencing alternatives and other crime prevention strategies, the reform package will avert prison growth for five years and is expected to eliminate the need for about 870 of the projected 2,000-bed increase over 10 yerars.

Reforms in HB 3194 include:

• Repealing the mandatory minimums for drug offenses contained in Measure 57 (see below), and placing select property offenses in new sentencing ranges
• Expanding presumptive probation for marijuana and drive-while-suspended offenses
• Expanding from 30 days to 90 days the amount of transitional leave inmates have at the end of their sentences, so they can participate in supervised community reentry programs
• Creating a justice reinvestment grant program to support county efforts to reduce recidivism and expand prison alternatives
• Allowing probationers to earn time off their sentences by complying with the terms of their supervision.

The legislation was supported by a broad coalition of stakeholders, including business leaders and the state associations of community corrections directors, police chiefs, district attorneys, and sheriffs.

More than eight in 10 Oregon voters agree that the state’s prisons should be put to the cost-benefit test to make sure taxpayers are getting the best results for their dollars. By clear margins regardless of political party affiliation, gender, or history as a victim of crime, voters favor slowing prison growth and redirecting the savings to local public safety strategies.

HB 3194 places Oregon in the company of more than a dozen states, including Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas, that are implementing “justice reinvestment” policies designed to protect public safety, hold offenders accountable, and control corrections costs. These reforms have contributed to the first drop in the national prison population in almost 40 years (not so coincidentally, since the modern War On Drugs began under President Nixon), while crime rates continue to decline.

Oregon’s prison population ballooned after voters in 2008 passed an initiative that increased sentences. Measure 57, a legislative measure approved by 61 percent of Oregon’s voters, increased some sentences for repeat drug offenders, and likely generated an estimated 1,670 additional prisoners, reports Phillip Smith at Stopthedrugwar.org.

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