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