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OR Groups Call for Prison "Services Not Sentences"

June 1, 2011

SALEM, Ore. - Crime survivors' groups are asking state lawmakers to shift money designated for more prison beds into programs that prevent crime and support survivors' services instead.

Bob Robison, who lost his job as a victim services manager to Multnomah County budget cuts, says public-safety dollars could be more effective if spent on preventing domestic violence, and stepping up counseling for drug and alcohol addiction and sexual abuse. Instead, the figures show Oregon's prison spending has grown in the past 15 years, as more people are locked up.

"In the same time, we've had a bunch of very powerful social science research that tells us how we can most effectively rehabilitate people who've committed crimes. Long prison stays aren't always the way."

The figures point to a $1.4 billion prison budget, almost 9 percent of the combined General Fund and lottery proceeds - while mental health programs, the State Police and domestic-violence shelters are underfunded and facing more cutbacks.

At the Portland Women's Crisis Line, Executive Director Rebecca Nickels says it's tough to beg lawmakers to keep the current funding in place when it's far less than what is needed and service providers are swamped.

"When somebody calls us looking for shelter, they might be calling us for a month before they find anything. So, we're actually talking with survivors about options like sleeping in their car or riding the Max trains during the night, or sitting at the airport - just really dire suggestions."

Two initiatives with mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes have been passed by Oregon voters since 2008, but the groups are asking the legislature to continue to delay implementation of Measure 57, and modify Measure 73. They say longer prison stays are costing the state more, without making Oregonians any safer.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR