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New Year, New Approach to Public Safety for OR?

December 8, 2011

PORTLAND, Ore. - The year isn't quite over, but it's looking like another record-breaker for domestic violence shelters in Oregon, with about 50 percent more requests for help than the system can accommodate. It also indicates a public safety system that's out of balance, according to some - including Rebecca Nickels, executive director of the Portland Women's Crisis Line.

Nickels thinks more money should be spent on crime prevention and intervention, and less on locking people up.

"It certainly isn't a matter of not wanting people to be in jail when they're supposed to be, but it's really a matter of looking at the whole system and trying to be the best stewards of those dollars as possible."

A seven-member Governor's Commission on Public Safety was appointed in July to make specific recommendations for a system that is "more efficient, smart and fair," to quote the governor's office. The Commission's report is due next week.

David Rogers, executive director of the Partnership for Safety and Justice (PSJ), says 70 percent of Oregon's public safety budget is spent on corrections - even as a growing amount of research indicates there are effective and lower-cost alternatives to putting people in prison. His organization outlines some of the new strategies in a report released today. It explains a different approach, known as Justice Reinvestment, he says.

"We can save significant monies - hundreds of millions of dollars - and actually reinvest that into smarter approaches to public safety, like crime prevention, addiction treatment, police and also victim services."

In some cases, Oregon's current sentencing laws are 20 years out of date, Rogers says, adding that they are mostly the result of ballot measures over the years to emphasize a "tough on crime" stance.

The report, "Moving Beyond Sides," can be viewed online on the PSJ website,

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR