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OR Bill Proposes Big Shift in Criminal Justice

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Monday, February 22, 2021   

SALEM, Ore. -- A bill in the Oregon Legislature proposes major reforms to the state's criminal justice system.

House Bill 2002 is a sweeping measure that would scale back the system's reach, from limiting what offenses send a person to jail, to reforming mandatory minimum sentences, to reducing the number of people on parole.

Shannon Wight, deputy director of the Partnership for Safety and Justice, one of the groups that requested the bill, said the changes are needed.

"Those are the part of the bill that actually kind of shrink the system, limit its impact because we know it's grown too big," Wight contended. "It's become like the mental health default, the addiction default."

Wight pointed out the bill came together in the wake of George Floyd's death.

She emphasized it would save money to be reinvested in things like culturally-specific services.

Other groups involved in the effort include the Latino Network, Coalition of Communities of Color, and Red Lodge Transition Services.

House Bill 2002 has a public hearing scheduled in the House Judiciary Committee Thursday.

Morgan Godvin, a commissioner on the Oregon Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission, spent time in Oregon jails and a federal prison for her opioid use disorder.

She said her personal experience opened her eyes because she saw many women churned through the system, being released and re-arrested again and again.

"It was making them less safe," Godvin argued. "Jail was destabilizing their lives. They were losing their housing, they were losing their job, and then being released back into the exact same circumstances from which they came."

Godvin helped craft the bill's parole piece. She stressed the current program negatively incentivizes people, relying on sending them back to jail. The bill would allow for tele-reporting to supervisors and limit the complexities of parole.

Wight added reforming mandatory minimum sentences is important because it unties the hands of judges. She noted, nonetheless, people who commit crimes need to be held accountable.

"Part of what we're saying with these reforms is, let's go back to a system that allows judges to look at the individual circumstances of those crimes and make decisions that are based on what accountability makes sense for that person and for that victim," Wight concluded.

The bill would also increase funding for community-based victim services.


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