Oregon politicians and law enforcement groups are fighting over efforts to reduce voter-approved mandatory minimum prison sentences.
Liberals claim the mandatory minimum terms are too harsh, and will overload prisons, and law enforcement ranks insist they are appropriate, the Register-Guard newspaper reported.
While the legislators continue to press for removing mandatory minimum sentences for property and drug offenses, amendments to drop mandatory minimums for violent crimes are being rejected.
“The goal has been to shift costs out of ‘hard’ (prison) beds and make an investment at the community level,” said Democratic Sen. Floyd Prozanski, who played a central role in examining prison reforms.
If the state can successfully reduce the prison population, the projected saving of approximately $30 million over the next two years was to be divvied up among Oregon’s 36 counties. Those counties would determine which community corrections programs to fund.
Some of the proposed reforms violate “truth in sentencing” legislation, a Lane County district attorney said to the Register-Guard. The money offered by the state for “community corrections” isn’t enough to drive down the need for prison beds, he added.
A compromise counter-proposal by Oregon district attorneys includes removing mandatory minimum sentences for repeat drug offenders. Law officials might agree to legislation for new sentencing changes only if the prison population grew to the point where a new prison facility is required, stated an official from the district attorney’s office.
Advocates insist the proposed reforms of mandatory sentences for property and drug offenses are needed, said Shannon Wight of the Portland-based Partnership for Safety and Justice.
“We hope (lawmakers) are going to stay on track” with their proposal,” she said. “It’s about getting back to what the system does best, and that’s funding (preventive) programs at the local level.”