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How "Tough on Crime" Can OR Afford to Be?

October 18, 2010

PORTLAND, Ore. - One of the more controversial issues on the Oregon midterm election ballot is Measure 73. It's a "tough on crime" initiative to increase mandatory sentences for people convicted of repeat drunk driving, and for some felony sex offenses. Opponents say cash-strapped Oregon can't afford to be quite this tough.

If anyone would want to be tougher on sex offenders, you would think it would be victims of domestic and sexual violence. However, Terrie Quinteros, who heads the Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, says the measure has a big price tag, with no guarantee of greater public safety.

"We lock people up; they get few or no rehabilitative services. We're often not the better for it, because the services weren't necessarily there for the survivor, and nothing has changed for the person who served time in prison."

Quinteros points out that Oregon already has tough laws against sexual predators: The average felony sentence for a sex crime is 15 to 17 years, and making it 25 years would cost the state more. The Secretary of State's office estimates Measure 73 would increase prison costs by $20 million to $30 million a year.

The Coalition urges that the state's limited funds be better spent on domestic violence prevention and services, such as emergency shelters and rape crisis counseling. These types of programs are already under-funded, says Quinteros.

"Any time we're adding mandatory measures such as this one, that's going to force the state to pull from the very little bit of funding that sexual violence programs get, around the state, for services."

Last year, she adds, more than 19,000 requests for emergency shelter and services could not be met by shelters in Oregon for lack of resources. While backers of Measure 73 say it would increase public safety, Quinteros sees it as evidence that public safety spending is out of balance.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR