For almost two years leading up to the 2013 session, a group of legislators, judges, and criminal justice officials and stakeholders met as the Governor’s Commission on Public Safety to examine ways that Oregon can control anticipated growth in prison population and public safety spending. In December 2012 the Commission submitted its report to the Governor, which outlined several options for policy changes to address these issues. This session, the Joint Committee on Public Safety took up consideration of the options in the form of HB 3194.

HB 3194 started out as a package of modest changes to Oregon law that included:

1) giving judges more discretion in sentencing certain Measure 11 and Measure 57 (ballot measures that impose mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes) offenses,
2) incentivizing good behavior in prison through modest earned-time eligibility,
3) providing earned-review (second look) for youth convicted of Measure 11 offenses, and
4) creating earned-discharge for certain offenders on probation or post-prison supervision.

We voiced our strong support for this bill, modest as it may have been, because the proposals had the potential to limit the growth of incarceration in Oregon without sacrificing public safety. And they allowed for reinvestment of prison savings into proven community justice alternatives that can lower recidivism rates. We would certainly advocate for farther-reaching reforms, but we believed that the initial version of HB 3194 was a positive step toward refocusing our public safety resources on policies that encourage rehabilitation, treatment, and evidenced-based rather than “tough on crime” approaches to sentencing.

Unfortunately, late-session amendments turned HB 3194 from an important step forward to a disappointing missed opportunity. The final bill removed any modifications to Measure 11 sentencing, earned time, and second look, among other changes. The product of a closed-door deal between the Governor’s office and law enforcement interests (including the District Attorneys, the Chiefs of Police, and the Sheriffs), HB 3194 also prompted written commitments from the Governor and Legislative leadership to refrain from pursuing any further significant changes to public safety policy for at least five years unless law enforcement supports doing so.

HB 3194 made a handful of changes that almost all move Oregon in the right direction, but we moved to a position of neutral on the final bill because of the significance of how far the bill had retreated from its original language and goals.

Vote: 40-18-2 House
19-11 Senate