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Gov's Commission Continues Public Safety, Budget Probe

PHOTO: Gov. John Kitzhaber addresses members of the Oregon Commission on Public Safety. Photo credit: Shannon Wight
PHOTO: Gov. John Kitzhaber addresses members of the Oregon Commission on Public Safety. Photo credit: Shannon Wight
September 25, 2012

PORTLAND, Ore. - Governor John Kitzhaber addressed the Oregon Commission on Public Safety Reform on Monday as it takes on the task of reeling in prison spending in Oregon. The effort has a variety of backers that aren't usually known for working together, all members of a Coalition for Safety and Savings.

One group is the Oregon Business Association. Its executive director, Ryan Deckert, says leaders in businesses of all sizes see the need to re-examine a system that costs the state more than a billion dollars a year.

"You know, we just have seen enough evidence from other states that there seem to be more cost-effective ways of reaching two goals: less recidivism - so, fewer crimes - and really, more cost-effective ways of achieving that."

Deckert thinks the commission should look into ways to use technology to, for example, monitor some low-risk offenders rather than incarcerating them.

The Oregon Students Association (OSA) is watching the commission's progress. It's made up of young people like Augustin Vega-Peters. He's a senior at Oregon State University who says he juggles loans, scholarships and a job to stay in school. He thinks education often takes a back seat to corrections in the state budget.

"It was upsetting and troubling when I first heard about how Oregon spends more money on prisons than colleges. We want schools, not prisons, which is one of the things OSA tries to work on."

Andy Smith, co-chair of the Human Services Coalition of Oregon, sees this as an historic opportunity to re-balance the public safety system. He says the commission has done a great deal of research and believes it will pay off.

"The measurement standard is still the same, and that's ultimate accountability in public safety. But I think the evidence-based approach that Oregon is considering is the right way to go: In other words, what does the science and research tell us about what's the best and smartest way to invest tax dollars, and get the best return?"

The state corrections budget has more than tripled in 15 years and the governor created the high-level commission to rethink Oregon's approach to crime and public safety. It has until mid-December to finalize its recommendations.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR