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"Smart On Crime": A Growing Trend in OR?

PHOTO: Oregon's 2012 election results seem to indicate more voters share the view on this sign, seen earlier this year at a Portland State University rally.
PHOTO: Oregon's 2012 election results seem to indicate more voters share the view on this sign, seen earlier this year at a Portland State University rally.
November 14, 2012

PORTLAND, Ore. - One message from the Oregon election results could be that voters are shifting from a strict "tough on crime" stance to what some are calling a "smart on crime" approach.

David Rogers, who heads the Partnership for Safety and Justice, says more people are connecting Oregon's criminal-sentencing policies and prison expansion plans to the state budget deficit - and deciding some of the money could be better spent on addiction treatment, mental-health services and programs that keep people out of prison.

"People recognize that if we just toughen sentences and build and fill prisons, that does nothing ultimately, to break the cycle of addiction-driven crime, and it does nothing to break the cycle of crime and recidivism."

Rogers says 10 state legislative candidates were targeted with attack ads that accused them of not being tough enough on crime. In every case, he says, Oregon voters elected them anyway, despite what he calls "scare tactics."

Some in Oregon still believe mandatory minimum sentences and longer prison terms deter crime. Rogers says others, however, are changing their views in the face of a $1.4 billion corrections budget. He sees it as part of a national trend as states try to bounce back from budget crises and rethink what they're spending on prisons.

"California voters passed Proposition 36, which is a measure that reforms their three-strikes mandatory minimum law. And it passed with over 68 percent support - and it won in every single county, which is unheard of."

The American Civil Liberties Union says 17 other states also have been working this year on new policies to reduce their prison and jail populations for nonviolent offenders. Gov. John Kitzhaber's Commission on Public Safety will make its recommendations before the next legislative session begins.

An ACLU summary of states' efforts, compiled in June, is online at aclu.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR