Reviewing Measure 11: Advocates seek reform, prosecutors argue it works fine

Oregon’s landmark mandatory sentencing law, Measure 11, is about to go under scrutiny by state legislators this week. Advocates of criminal justice reform have four bills that would change the way those convicted of serious crimes are sentenced.

The first of those bills, House Bill 2002, has a public hearing scheduled in the House Committee of Judiciary on Tuesday.

But Oregon’s District Attorneys Association is determined to fend off the bills, saying in a recent report Measure 11 continues to protect communities, provides justice to victims and issues “reasonable” sentences to the state’s most violent offenders based on “conduct, not color.”

Oregon’s Measure 11 requires minimum sentencing for the most severe crimes — such as murder, rape and arson — for people 15 years old and up. The law, known as “one strike you’re out,” passed by a 65% vote in 1994 and was reaffirmed in 2000 by 73% of the vote.

The association boasted the results of a survey released late last year showing 54% of Oregon voters have a favorable opinion of Measure 11 and 78.3% oppose the Legislature reducing mandatory minimum sentencing for violent offenders. The survey polled 600 people and had a 4% margin of error.

“Registered Oregon voters messaged a desire to maintain this ability to keep our communities safe,” Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson said in response to the poll. “My office stands with victims of crime and I believe Ballot Measure 11 sentences are one of the most crucial ways that we can keep our entire community safe from the most serious of offenders.”

Four bills, similar efforts

Though each is different, the four proposals before the Oregon Legislature all take aim at reforming the sentencing guidelines. One bill would allow those already facing convictions eligible for a reduction in sentence. Each bill would require a two-thirds vote in each Chamber — or 40 House Members and 20 Senate Members.

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, chief sponsor of Senate Bill 401, said his proposed legislation would replace minimum sentencing with presumptive sentencing guidelines — essentially giving judges more discretion over the sentence. The other bills are SB 191 and HB 2172.

The goal is to make the criminal justice system more fair and balanced.

“Our whole system is set up for advocates to … put (their) case before the court and then the court makes the decision” on the sentence, he said.

Prozanski serves as a contract prosecutor at the municipal courts in the cities of Eugene, Florence and Springfield in Lane County.

“I’d like to get us back to the basics — the foundations of what our criminal justice system was built on and I believe that that is a much fairer way,” he said.

Changing more than sentencing

House Bill 2002 also proposes making the current mandatory minimum sentences discretionary, but also tackles reforms in parole and probation, and reinvestment in culturally-specific services, such as drug treatment provided in other languages.

“The bill is a much more comprehensive look at inequities in our system,” said Shannon Wight, deputy director of the Partnership for Safety and Justice, an Oregon-based organization focused on advancing policy for public safety reform. “I think there’s no question that what happened with George Floyd’s murder and Black Lives Matter over the summer has elevated the need for justice reform in Oregon and across the country.”

The justice partnership is one of several organizations that proposed the legislation including the Latino Network, Coalition of Communities of Color, Central City Concern, Red Lodge Transition Services, and Bridges to Change.

Wight said the district attorneys association’s poll shows 57.9% of Oregonians were in support of legislation that left sentencing up to the judge — “and we think that’s right.”

Date: 2021-02-16 09:04

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