This year the Oregon Legislature faced a choice: spend $20 million on opening a new prison for women or invest in the programs best designed to prevent crime and that help people harmed by crime. The legislature took the smart approach by passing the Safety and Savings Act (HB 3078).
The Safety and Savings Act made modest reductions to select sentences to avoid opening a new prison for women. In turn, it invests $8 million on increasing access to treatment and rehabilitation programs as well as victim services. The Legislature focused on the right balance of accountability, treatment, and prevention. These are common sense reforms that address the root causes of crime.
But the law, which is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2018, is now facing a new hurdle. This week, Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote filed a lawsuit designed to stop the implementation of the forward-thinking reform.
By trying to stop the Safety and Savings Act, Mr. Foote again shows that he is out of touch with effective criminal justice policy and is disconnected to public values. He seems to be obsessed with the failed strategies of the 1990s, the War on Drugs, and mass incarceration. This isn't the first time we have seriously disagreed with Mr. Foote. Research tells us that there are more effective approaches to addressing crime and public safety.
Addiction-driven crime won’t be solved by focusing on more arrests and more prison beds.
Addiction-driven crime won’t be solved by focusing on more arrests and more prison beds. We know Oregonians understand that. In fact, a poll from earlier this year showed that 78% of Oregon voters said they would be more likely to vote for a DA or Sheriff who thinks drug problems should be addressed more frequently through prevention and treatment, not arrests and punishment
To make matters worse, Mr. Foote is engaging in classic scare tactics with how he describes modest sentencing reforms. And let’s be clear, his actions could have terrible consequences for Oregon. He says he is concerned about victims, but he is trying to stop a law that is going to invest a million dollars in the Oregon Domestic and Sexual Violence Services Fund. And he says the Safety and Savings Act doesn’t reflect voter interests, but we don’t know any Oregonians that want to spend tens of millions of taxpayer dollars opening a new women’s prison.
Smarter solutions exist than growing our prison system, but a handful of powerful people seem hell-bent on sticking with the policies that have fueled over incarceration. This expensive and overly punitive system is not serving Oregon families and communities. The Safety and Savings Act was a smart choice for our state, and I hope it will not be slowed down by out-of-date thinking like we see from Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote.