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    Portland Association of Teachers and the Oregon Education Association endorse Jennifer

    Portland educators are excited to endorse Jennifer Williamson because of her deep commitment to public education and the issues surrounding delivering a quality education for all students.
    -Suzanne Cohen, 7th grade Math/Science Teacher Peninsula K-8
    Teacher’s Voice In Politics Co-Chair
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    Single Payer, Other Health Issues, Divide Candidates for House District 36

    Of the two candidates, Sharon Meieran has the support of the healthcare industry, while Jennifer Williamson has a more diverse list of contributors
    By:Amanda Waldroupe

    April 16, 2012—Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish the policy beliefs of one Portland liberal running for office from another, but when it comes to healthcare, it’s relatively easy to drawn lines in the sand between Sharon Meieran and Jennifer Williamson.

    They’re competing to win the upcoming May 15 Democratic primary for House District 36, which includes parts of downtown and southwest Portland. Rep. Mary Nolan (D-Portland), who currently holds that seat, is running against Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz for Portland City Council.

    Whoever wins the primary is likely to become the new legislator since the district is a reliably safe Democratic seat even though there’s a Republican in the running.

    An emergency room doctor at Portland Adventist Health Center, Meieran was motivated to run for the House seat by “what [she] sees on the front lines everyday,” and is also president of the Oregon College of Emergency Physicians and a member of the Oregon Medical Association’s Legislative Committee.

    On the job, she’s seen people showing up in the emergency room with untreated mental and substance abuse issues, homelessness, and other problems that effect their health, and believes she lends “a unique perspective at a unique time,” given the transformation of Oregon’s healthcare system.

    Williamson, on the other hand, wants to make certain that Oregon continues investing in programs and services that offer opportunities. She’s worked as a lobbyist for Portland State University and more recently for Komen Oregon.

    A fourth generation Oregonian, she and her five siblings were the first in their family to attend college, and attributes that, in part, to financial aid from the state. “The state invested in us,” she said. “Kids and families don’t have that opportunity anymore.

    Where Meieran and Williamson differ most starkly is whether a single payer system—which would provide universal healthcare to every Oregonian — could be successfully implemented.

    “Single payer makes the most sense,” said Williamson because it assures that everyone will have health coverage and save the state money. Creating a single payer system would also generate healthcare jobs and minimize labor disputes.

    Williamson’s heard from teachers who’ve foregone pay increases over the last three years because of rising healthcare costs, yet another reason, she said, for a single payer system.

    If elected, Williamson’s eager to work with Rep. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland) to introduce single payer legislation, and is also planning a trip to Vermont to learn how that state has been able to create a single payer system.

    Nevertheless, she realizes that she’ll face a tough battle winning over her colleagues. “It’s a hard industry {healthcare industry} to come up against. People aren’t ready to take it on.”

    From her perspective, Meieran calls a single payer system “the ideal type” of healthcare system, but doesn’t believe it’s possible to achieve in Oregon. “It’s not practical or feasible…from an economic standpoint, provider standpoint, and every aspects of the delivery system.”

    In two to four years, it might be more realistic to think about such a system. “At some point we can get there,” said Merieran, but didn’t explain what that meant.

    The candidates also differed slightly on the Legislature’s role in coordinated care organizations, which will begin integrating physical and mental healthcare for 650,000 people on the Oregon Health Plan in August and could become the delivery system for the state’s school teachers and public employees.

    “This is the beginning of the process,” said Meieran, who doesn’t believe the Legislature should monitor CCO development, but believes it’s essential to provide preventive services and fund school-based centers.

    From Williamson’s perspective, CCOs “have to be held accountable. This is the system we’re saying we need in the state.”

    She thinks the Legislature should hold hearings and either change the rules or draft new legislation to make certain CCOs live up to their expectations while emphasizing prevention and integrating mental health.

    “I’m really focused on budget issues,” she said. “It goes back to the general proposition that when we invest dollars, we do it in the smartest way possible.”

    The myriad of problems currently faced by the healthcare system is “about healthcare finance,” she said. “It’s a budget issue, and figuring out the best investments for the best outcomes.”

    Merieran Campaign Supported by Healthcare Industry

    It’s obvious from the campaign contributions that Meieran is favored by the healthcare industry. According to ORESTAR, she’s received contributions from dozens of healthcare organizations, including Douglas County Independent Practice Association (DCIPA, which gave $1,500) and Doctors for Healthy Communities ($1,500).

    The political action committees of the Oregon Medical Association, Oregon Healthcare Association and Oregon Hospital Association, also each gave her $2,500. Other notable contributors include Regence Oregon and Chuck Hofmann, whose term on the Oregon Health Policy Board recently ended.

    Williamson, on the other hand, has a more diverse list of contributors, including the Oregon Business Association, Oregon Nurses PAC (which gave $5,000), Oregon AFSCME, the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Planned Parenthood and numerous individual lawyers (Williamson has a law degree from the University of Oregon).

    Meieran said her contributions won’t affect her judgment or policy decisions as a legislator. Williamson disagrees. “That idea that it doesn’t matter is wrong,” she said.

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    Oregon Must Have the Courage to Lead on Universal Health Care

    By Jennifer Williamson of Portland, Oregon. Jennifer is an attorney running in the Democratic primary for HD 36 in West Portland. Jennifer is endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon and the Oregon Nurses Association. For more information, visit JenniferForOregon.com.

    We hear a lot about rising gas prices, high food prices and, increasingly in Portland, rents that are out of reach. These are critical issues on the minds of my neighbors. But there’s another concern that isn’t getting as much attention as it deserves these days.

    As I’ve knocked on doors over the last four months across House District 36, I continue to hear from voters that they’re worried about rising health care costs. Despite what the national Republican assault on Obamacare would have us believe, the truth is that access to quality care has declined for thousands of Oregonians and health care prices are out of control.

    It’s a story Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum don’t want you to hear. The facts for our citizens are disturbing:

    -Each year, 540 Oregonians die from treatable diseases because they could not afford needed health care.

    -Last year 34,000 Oregonians in 12,000 families endured personal bankruptcies caused by medical crises. Most of these people had health insurance when the medical condition began.

    Every Oregonian deserves health care. But even though Oregonians already spend more than enough to get that health care, too many of us are left out and our families suffer.

    There are health care systems around the world and even in our own country providing better care to more people for less money than we do here in Oregon.

    With the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act now under review by the Supreme Court, it’s more important than ever for Oregon to take the lead for its citizens. It’s time for Oregonians to once again be pioneers. It’s time for Oregon to learn from other countries and other states.

    If we apply successful lessons to a new statewide, publicly-funded health care system, we can ensure every one of our citizens has access to the care we need. The truth is we don’t have to spend more, we just need to spend smarter.

    Oregon is unique. And not everything that works in other systems will work here. But we know we can do better – much, much better.

    It takes courage to change an industry that is consuming nearly 20% of all the money spent in our state, and reform a system that is decades old. It takes courage to create a new health care system that provides for us and our families throughout our lifetimes. But Oregonians are courageous people.

    When I get to Salem, one of my top priorities in the State House will be to work for a publicly funded, publicly accountable universal health care system that will provide quality care for every Oregonian.

    I believe Oregon simply cannot afford to do anything less.

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    Several Executives Leave Komen After Controversy

     March 22, 2012, 08:32 pm ET

    DALLAS (AP) — At least five high-ranking executives with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer charity have resigned in the aftermath of the organization’s decision to eliminate its funding for Planned Parenthood.

    The departures include three officials from Komen’s Dallas headquarters, as well as CEOs of affiliate groups in Oregon and New York City. The chairman of the foundation also stepped down from his post, though he will remain on the board. Although some cited personal reasons, the resignations suggest that Komen is still in turmoil, even after reversing course and restoring the money to Planned Parenthood.

    Komen spokeswoman Leslie Aun said she could not speak to individuals’ reasons for leaving but acknowledged the effects of the controversy among supporters.

    “Obviously, we know some folks are upset. We’ve certainly seen that,” Aun said. “We know people have been upset by recent events, but most really do recognize the importance of our work.”

    The resignations began about a month ago. Chris McDonald, executive director and chief executive of the organization’s Oregon and southwest Washington affiliate, announced that she’ll leave at the end of April. She said her decision wasn’t “predicated by any one event,” but that actions by national headquarters affected her thinking.

    “Despite our deep frustration about the distraction that our organization headquarters’ actions caused, I was proud that our affiliate took a strong stand against the politicization of the fight to improve women’s health,” McDonald said in a Feb. 25 statement posted on the organization’s website.

    One board member for McDonald’s affiliate, Portland attorney Jennifer Williamson, rejoined the board after stepping down last month to put pressure on the national organization. She couldn’t walk away from the local Komen work to expand access to women’s health care, she said.

    “As a local affiliate we could push back on them but we couldn’t do anything about it,” said Williamson, who is also on the Planned Parenthood board and is a Democratic candidate for the state Legislature. “I did what I had the ability to do, which was resign from the board. But to support the mission … I rejoined the board.”

    News emerged in late January that Komen had decided to stop giving money to Planned Parenthood for breast-screening services because Planned Parenthood was the focus of a congressional investigation launched at the urging of anti-abortion activists. After a three-day firestorm of criticism, Komen decided to restore the money.

    Some Komen affiliates, including McDonald’s, were among those that publicly opposed the policy change that cut off grants for Planned Parenthood.

    In the days after the reversal, Komen policy chief Karen Handel resigned. She had opposed abortion as a Republican candidate for Georgia governor and had become a target of those angry about the decision to halt funding to Planned Parenthood.

    In Dallas, the three resignations were Katrina McGhee, executive vice president and chief marketing officer; Nancy Macgregor, vice president of global networks; and Joanna Newcomb, director of affiliate strategy and planning.

    McGhee announced in February that she would be leaving May 4 “for personal reasons” and because it was “time to make a change.”

    McGregor will leave in June, and Newcomb departed at the end of February. The Associated Press left messages Thursday for McGhee and Macgregor. Newcomb declined to comment.

    Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall Jr. also will step down from his post as chairman of the foundation’s board of directors as of March 31, but he will remain on the board, Aun said. His decision, which was finalized at a Thursday board meeting, comes as he is “stepping back a bit” from the board due to his responsibilities is his role as provost at Howard University, she said. Leffall did not immediately return messages from the AP.

    Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron, CEO of Komen’s New York City affiliate, said Tuesday that she will leave April 27. Her affiliate was also critical of the Planned Parenthood decision, but she did not cite that in a letter posted on the website, saying only that she wanted to pursue “new career opportunities” and that leaving “was not an easy decision.”

    Vern Calhoun, a spokesman for the New York affiliate, said Richardson-Heron was not speaking to reporters.

    Supporters of the affiliate called, emailed, tweeted and posted updates on Facebook about their concerns during those first days of February. But, Calhoun said, “things have quieted down considerably” since the decision was reversed.

    Nevertheless, the office decided to postpone two spring fundraising events because organizers were not certain of their ability to get donations in the “near term.” In their place, the New York operation planned to hold a free breakfast event for grant recipients, supporters, volunteers and sponsors, Calhoun said.

    Other Komen groups expect to carry on with business as usual.

    The Los Angeles County affiliate will hold its annual race this weekend. Executive Director Mark Pilon said participation numbers are steady.

    “We’re tracking right what we did last year and our corporate sponsorship is up,” said Pilon, who took the job only a month ago.

    Pilon replaced Deb Anthony, who resigned last fall. She told Los Angeles television station KNBC in February that she submitted her resignation notice in December “for a variety of reasons.” She said it was a coincidence that it came around the time Komen was in the spotlight.

    “There are several decisions that Komen has made in the past year that have led me to decide that my skills and talents no longer fit their model,” she said in an email to KCBS television. The AP left a message Thursday seeking comment from Anthony.

    Komen did not publicly announce its decision to halt the grants but conveyed the news to its 100-plus U.S. affiliates. The head of Planned Parenthood has said she was informed of the decision in December.

    Sandra Miniutti, vice president for Charity Navigator, said that the controversy is likely to affect Komen’s ability to raise money. Although Komen is in good financial shape, the charity may have to spend considerably more money to achieve the same amount as in the past.

    Her organization allows people to review charities on its website. Before the controversy erupted, there were fewer than 100 reviews of Komen. But afterward, that number grew to about 700, many of them negative, she said.

    Because of the way the organization “flip-flopped” on its decision, it angered people on both sides of the controversy, she said.

    Aun said the charity’s “donations and our support remain strong.”


    Associated Press writers Jonathan J. Cooper in Portland, Ore., Robert Jablon in Los Angeles, Russ Bynum in Savannah, Ga., and Jim Fitzgerald in New York City contributed to this report.

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    An important message from Governor Barbara Roberts

    Dear Friends,

    These days there seem to be a lot of folks in politics who say one thing and do another.  They get into office and suddenly they’re not the person we thought they were.

    The people of House District 36 have been fortunate to be represented by a tireless and courageous progressive leader in Mary Nolan. She has done great work in Salem and is a consistent voice on the issues that matter most.

    Now, with Mary running for City Commission, it’s critical that we fill this seat with someone who won’t need on-the-job training.  We need a leader who is ready to hit the ground running and make sure that Oregon doesn’t retreat from the values that make our state special.

    House District 36 deserves a proven progressive in Salem.  That’s why I am proud to endorse Jennifer Williamson for State Representative.

    Jen has done an awful lot before the age of 40! For two decades, she’s been a leader for women’s health and access to all reproductive health care services. That’s why she is the only candidate in HD 36 endorsed by Planned Parenthood. 

    She grew up on a farm in Washington County and believes in the dignity of work and the rights of working people.  That’s why she is the only candidate in HD 36 endorsed by the AFL-CIO and AFSCME.

    Jennifer will protect the programs that are critical for Oregon families.  That’s why she’s earned the support of the Oregon Nurses Association and Oregon Fire Fighters.

    Jen knows we have to work together to create new opportunity for all our citizens and a new economy for Oregon. That’s why she is the choice of the Oregon Business Association.

    House District 36 needs a proven progressive in Salem. We need Jennifer Williamson in the State House.

    For Oregon,

    Governor Barbara Roberts

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    Abortion politics and breast cancer: Local Komen group will need heroic effort to recover

    By Susan Nielsen, The Oregonian The Oregonian- Sunday 2/5/12


    The local affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure may not recover from last week’s political firestorm over Planned Parenthood, not without months of crisis control and outreach.

    But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Sharon Hunt of McMinnville, Jennifer Williamson of Portland — and Jennifer’s mom, a retired oncology nurse from Beaverton who fervently opposes abortion yet supports Planned Parenthood for its commitment to women in need.

    “It’s very upsetting,” said Margaret Williamson, 65. “The early detection of cancer is so important. … This whole thing is totally unfair, especially to low-income women.”

    Last week, the nation’s leading breast-cancer charity said it decided to reject Planned Parenthood as a grant recipient for breast cancer screening. Komen pinned the change to a newly adopted board policy forbidding grants to organizations under investigation. Komen leaders insisted, unpersuasively, that this had nothing to do with Planned Parenthood’s role as an abortion provider or with the ongoing campaign by abortion opponents to starve the family-planning organization of public and private money.

    The backlash was immediate and stunning. By Friday, Komen was compelled to apologize and reverse course. Unfortunately, it’s hard to measure the extent of the reversal: Planned Parenthood is technically eligible for Komen grants again, but it may not win any.

    It’s also hard for breast-health advocates in Oregon to know how to respond. The local Komen affiliate serves Oregon and southwest Washington (and the local leaders opposed the move to defund Planned Parenthood), but the chapter does send a good portion of its locally raised money to national headquarters for research and advocacy.

    That doesn’t sit well with Hunt, 67.

    “I think (the national leaders) are so involved with continuing the institution of Komen,” Hunt said, “that they didn’t think about the woman who doesn’t have health insurance.”

    About five years ago, Hunt needed a mammogram but couldn’t afford one. She had recently lost her job as a receptionist and didn’t yet qualify for Medicare. She called the Komen foundation, the nearby Planned Parenthood clinic and another clinic. No one could help her. As she describes it, the two clinics were out of mammogram vouchers and the Komen folks said they hadn’t gotten their locally raised money back from headquarters yet.

    She finally got a mammogram once she qualified for Medicare. She’s fine, but she hates the scarcity of affordable cancer screening and she feels awful for the women whose early-stage cancers go undetected.

    “No one,” she said, “deserves to be snubbed.”

    I do think the local Komen chapter, which declined to comment Friday, can recover from this political crisis. However, it will take months of hard work to restore public confidence. If Komen can show exactly where the local donations go, and if it can be unusually specific about every Komen-supported breast-health service in every corner of Oregon, it may win back the local supporters who want to fight breast cancer without also fighting the culture wars.

    If the local chapter can’t rise to the occasion, another breast-cancer charity will grow to meet the demand.

    Until last week, Jennifer Williamson, 38, a Democratic state House candidate, served on local boards for both Planned Parenthood and the Komen charity. She resigned from the Komen board on Thursday, frustrated by the local affiliate’s initially timid response to the national move. She’s glad to see Komen backtrack, but she remains wary of the national agenda and reluctant to rejoin. She uses the word “trust” a lot.

    So does her mom, the former oncology nurse — a Catholic who calls herself “very anti-abortion.” The elder Williamson described Planned Parenthood as a first stop for lower-income women needing health care, and an ideal partner for Komen’s breast-health screening and mammogram referrals.

    She sees the politics as a terrible distraction.

    She has watched too many women die to feel otherwise.

    –Associate editor Susan Nielsen, The Oregonian

    Click here to view the article

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    Why I resigned from the Komen Board

    I’ve spent decades working for better health care for women in Oregon. Sometimes, that’s involved bringing diverse groups of people together to do the right thing. I was very proud of what we achieved to improve women’s health with the passage last year of the Low Income Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Act to ensure all eligible women in our state have access to lifesaving screening and treatment.

    In my view, the access to quality healthcare for all women must come first–not narrow partisan agendas or religious crusades. Unfortunately, the national leadership of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation decided to ignore that principle in its recent decision to defund Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screening program for low-income women. They injected politics, partisanship and divisiveness into basic health care services that save millions of lives.

    I simply can’t sit back quietly and let that happen.

    That’s why I resigned my position today from the Board of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure of Oregon & Southwest Washington.  As a proud supporter of Planned Parenthood and former chair of the board of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, I cannot in good conscience remain on the board of any organization that chooses to put politics ahead of preventive healthcare for low-income women.

    I had hoped our local Komen Chapter would loudly and strongly denounce this decision, work to overturn it immediately, or end affiliation with the national organization if the policy remains in place. I also believe the board should demand the dismissal of Karen Handel, Senior VP for Public Policy who drove this move by the national board. Because this has not happened, it is with deep sadness I am stepping down from the board of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure of Oregon and SW Washington until this policy is overturned and Karen Handel is no longer with the organization.

    Rest assured, I will continue to fight for better health care for women across Oregon and to ensure a women’s right to choose is never under threat in our state.

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    Now is the time for real sentencing reform

    By Jennifer Williamson of Portland, Oregon. Jennifer is an attorney and public safety reform leader running in the Democratic primary for HD 36 in West Portland. For more information, visit JenniferForOregon.com.

    Over the last several weeks, Governor Kitzhaber’s Commission on Public Safety has received a lot of attention over the release of its report calling for a hard look at Oregon’s public safety system. I, along with many others, am pleased this issue is receiving this long over-due attention. For the last 3 years, a group of non-profit organizations, unions, and concerned Legislators and citizens have worked together as part of the Oregon Coalition for Safety & Savings (OCSS) to formulate policy alternatives to our one-size-fits-all incarceration system and the enormous impact it has had on every other segment of our state’s budget.

    The OCSS is committed to supporting the most effective public safety policies so that our limited dollars are invested wisely. We are committed to keeping Oregonians safe and know that Oregon can do better when it comes to our spending on corrections.

    The membership of the OCSS includes a wide range of individuals and organizations who understand the need to decrease our spending on prisons and reinvest those savings into education, human services, community corrections, victim services, mental health, and addiction treatment. Members of the Oregon Coalition for Safety and Savings include:

    • Advocacy Coalition of Seniors and People with Disabilities
    • American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon
    • Association of Oregon Community Mental Health Programs
    • The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde
    • Human Services Coalition of Oregon
    • League of Women Voters of Oregon
    • National Association of Social Workers (Oregon Chapter)
    • Oregon Alliance of Children’s Programs
    • Oregon Business Association
    • Oregon Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence
    • Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association
    • Oregon Education Association
    • Oregon Prevention Education & Recovery Association
    • Partnership for Safety and Justice
    • SEIU, Local 503
    • Self Enhancement, Inc.
    • Stand for Children
    • Urban League
    • Youth, Rights & Justice

    As one of the leaders of this powerful coalition, I have focused on sounding the alarm on the growing cost of corrections. I have worked with the group on drafting policy recommendations supported by evidence-based practices that will actually make Oregonians safer. OCSS is continually working to prevent so-called “solutions” that have proven ineffective and costly in other states. These failed approaches include balancing the budgets on the backs of Department of Corrections’ employees, allowing for dangerous overcrowding of facilities, and the privatization of correctional institutions.

    Studies show that investing our limited dollars in education, drug and alcohol treatment, mental health services, programs that stabilize families, and transition programs are better investments than continuing to over-incarcerate to the tune of $30,000 per inmate per year–almost as much as a year’s tuition at a private college.

    As the Legislature reconvenes in February and searches for additional savings in the budget, I hope that Legislators will continue to work with the OCSS to find sound policy solutions, and save money. If they don’t, Oregon will continue on an unsustainable path to spending an additional $600 million on corrections. This staggering figure includes building 2 new prisons over the next 10 years and comes at a time when our crime rate is at a 40-year low and the Legislature is making damaging cuts to education, health care, and other vital services.

    The agenda of the Oregon Coalition for Safety and Savings compliments the work that the Commission on Public Safety has been preparing for the 2013 legislative session. Between now and then, you’ll be hearing more from the Coalition and the Commission on what Oregon needs to do to make our public safety system even better. Oregon has a lot to be proud of when it comes to our public safety policies, but also a lot that needs to change. Max Williams, the recently retired director of Corrections knew it, and the Coalition and Commission do too.

    Now is the time to make the public safety changes Oregon needs and we have the right leadership and coalition to make it happen.


    1/24/2012- Blue Oregon

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    Oregon AFL-CIO makes early endorsement for Jennife


    Press Release: December 16th, 2011

    Oregon AFL-CIO Makes Early Endorsements in Select Races

    The Oregon AFL-CIO Committee on Political Education (COPE), representing over 225,000 workers across all sectors of Oregon’s economy and from every corner of the state, gathered today to discuss endorsements in various races.

    Citing the importance of supporting candidates who will not just vote for, but who will advocate for issues that affect working people and help rebuild the middle class in Oregon, the COPE voted to endorse Jennifer Williamson for House District 36. Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain said, “Middle class Oregonian’s in HD 36 need a strong advocate in Salem – someone who isn’t afraid to stand up for their beliefs or stand up to corporate interests. Jennifer has a solid labor background and has proven herself an advocate for working people. We are proud to support her.”

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    Mercy Corps: Our Work begins at Home

    Crime Rates Fall to 30-Year Low While Correction Spending Soars

    By Jennifer Williamson

    Oregonians are safer than they have been in 30 years, according to a recent report released by the FBI, yet state spending on corrections is at an all-time high.

    Preliminary crime data for Oregon shows a dramatic decrease in 2009 crime rates. According to Craig Prins, Executive Director of the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, violent crime for 2009 fell in Oregon’s four largest cities. Violent crime de- creases were largest in Portland (-10%) and Gresham (-23%), while property crime declines were largest in Eugene (-12%) and Salem (-14%).

    “Crime spiked in the early- to mid-1990s, but has been going down in Oregon and across the country ever since. We haven’t seen crime levels this low in more than 30 years,” Prins told legislators at a joint hearing of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees in late May.

    Leading indicators for a reduction in crime rates, according to Prins, are the health of the economy, incarceration rates and demographics, especially the percentage of young adults in the state population. Bucking this trend, however, Oregon’s unemployment rates increased during 2002-2004 and again in 2008 and 2009, while crime rates continued to decrease.

    In 2009 we saw the largest increases in the unemployment rate since data were available in 1976. And yet, preliminary data shows that crime continued to fall. The most reliable indicator, said Prins, appears to be the number of young people ages 15-39. With fewer people that age in Oregon, the crime rate tends to de- crease. A decrease in young people in the population is projected to continue for the next 10 years.

    Correction Spending Up, Service Funding Down – And Nonprofits Fill the Gap

    Even as crime rates have dropped, spending on criminal justice budgets has skyrocketed, reducing available funding for other important public safety programs.

    According to the PEW Center on the States report “One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008” one in 100 Americans are currently behind bars. The PEW report found that corrections spending is devastating state budgets and that Oregon spends a greater percentage of its general fund dollars on corrections than any other state in the country. This has cost billions of dollars for both the construction and operation of corrections facilities. In the 1993-1995 biennium, the Oregon Department of Corrections budget was $377 million; for 2009-2011, the Department of Corrections budget is estimated at $1.4 billion. This spending trend is expected to continue even as the state faces an estimated $577 million shortfall for the 2011-13 biennium.

    The upward trend in corrections spending is especially alarming be- cause it has been, and will continue to be, at the expense of programs proven to reduce future crime at a fraction of the cost of building more prisons. Cuts to programs for drug and alcohol treatment, prison-based education, juvenile intervention and other community-based services have actually reduced the state’s ability to maintain public safety.

    Federal, state, and local lawmakers are responding to stark budget realities by making difficult funding choices as well as distressing cuts in public safety and corrections budgets, often leaving necessary service needs unmet. Nonprofit organizations are stepping up, with the help of private funding, to ensure these important programs continue and to fill the gap in essential ser- vices in our communities.

     Prisoner Reentry Services Reduce Recidivism, Increase Safety

    One service area that will be potentially devastated by state budget cuts is programming focused on transitioning the formerly incarcerated back into society. Over 95% of all state prisoners will eventually return to the community. Advocates for transition services argue it is in everyone’s best interest to create a system that actually prepares people to succeed when they return home. Formerly incarcerated people are often stigmatized and stereotyped, and face a range of laws, policies and practices that under- mine their ability to become active and productive members of society.

    Many local organizations, including Mercy Corps Northwest, are stepping up to meet the critical need in the community for services to prisoners transitioning back into the community. In 2009, Mercy Corps Northwest along with six other lo- cal non-profit organizations, created the Reentry Transition Center (RTC) located at 1818 NE MLK Blvd., with initial funding from the United Way.

    Support for the RTC has recently been supplemented by a two-year grant from Multnomah County, using federal funds administered by the Criminal Justice Commission.

    The RTC coordinates reentry services for formerly incarcerated people leaving county, state, and federal jails and prisons. The two navigators at the center, who have successfully made the transition from prison to the community themselves, coordinate a range of essential reentry resources in one location, fostering the financial independence and well-being of a highly challenged and potentially isolated population. The coordination of services is intended to help individuals address barriers to reintegrating back into the community, which in the bigger picture, reduces recidivism and increases community safety.

    “It is in everyone’s best interest that these individual succeed in re- entering our community” said Doug Cooper, Mercy Corps Northwest assistant director and project director of the RTC. “When people succeed, they become productive, tax-paying members of the community. They support their families and strengthen the social fabric. If they don’t succeed, there are increased costs of crime, law enforcement, judicial and prison costs – not to mention the added cost in misery and suffering.”

    As government funding for these vital public safety services and programs is reduced, the work of Mercy Corps Northwest and other agencies becomes increasingly vital for the quality of life of everyone in our communities.

    Jennifer Williamson is a Portland attorney.

    Published in Oregonian Thursday, June 17, 2010

    link to the full article