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Prison Sentencing Reform Among Winners of OR Legislative Session

Two bills passed by the Oregon Legislature aim to divert more people from prison. (Jeff Clark/Bureau of Land Management)
Two bills passed by the Oregon Legislature aim to divert more people from prison. (Jeff Clark/Bureau of Land Management)
July 12, 2017

SALEM, Ore. - The Oregon legislative session ended this week, and according to advocates for people in prison, sentencing reform was a big winner.

House Bill 3078, known as the "Safety and Savings Act" and passed last week, would divert women convicted of certain property crimes - often driven by drug addiction - to intensive supervision programs and addiction and mental-health treatment instead of prison.

Rep. Carla Piluso, D-Gresham, co-sponsored HB 3078. She and her colleagues want the state to get away from relying so much on punitive measures.

"We know, especially with our women, the causes of some of their challenges is related to drug and alcohol use," said Piluso, a former police chief in Gresham. "So, if we can work toward preventing rather than incarcerating, which really we find is not the best path for anybody to take."

Last week, lawmakers also passed House Bill 2355, which decriminalizes possession of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and ecstasy - as long as the person doesn't have any prior felonies or more than two felony drug convictions. They instead will be charged with a misdemeanor.

Both bills are on Gov. Kate Brown's desk.

Advocates for prison justice reform have touted both HB 3078 and HB 2355 as wins for racial justice. Piluso said these bills will help mothers stay with their children. She commends incarcerated women for their role in this reform process.

"There's a really collaborative sense, from my perspective, that this is an effort for all women to participate in, and again those who are currently incarcerated are really leading a good, strong charge to make change," she added.

HB 3078 also was created to reduce Oregon's need to build a second women's prison. Piluso said that saves the state nearly $20 million.

Details of HB 3078 are online here and details of HB 2355 are here.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR