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Posts published in “Day: November 24, 2007”

The efficient way

Count on Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney for some pungent commentary, as in his look ahead to a session of the Senate in which a whole lot of the members are or are considering running for another office. One-sixth of the chamber is formally so planning now, but it's likely to go much higher - maybe to about a third of the 30 total - over the next year.

Courtney: “I’m going to file the state Senate for any and all state offices, just to get this taken care of.”

As with many Courtney comments (we spotted this one on the Eugene Register-Guard's political blog), he was only half jesting.

Let's see. There's one running for state treasurer, Democrat Ben Westlund. There are four senators running for secretary of state (Kate Brown, Vicki Walker, and recently Rick Metsger and Brad Avakian), all Democrats; Republican Bruce Starr is said to be likely to join them before long. Then there are the potential governors in the group, including Republican Jason Atkinson (who has all but announced for the 2010 election) and (we're told not to be surprised if we see it) Democrat Kurt Schrader. Remember too, that Alan Bates (D-Ashland) gave serious thought to a U.S. Senate run this year, and new Senator Larry George (R-Sherwood) also gets mentions as a higher office prospect.

Which in all may create some tensions come the February session. But they might bear in mind too that all will look better if they play nice.

On their way out

As of a year ago - and the number would be higher now - an estimated 2,245,189 people were held in state and federal prisons in the United States. A few of them will stay there until they die, but most (the estimate is 95%) will be released back into society. And because over the last couple of decades sentences generally have been getting longer, those numbers are going to run higher than they have been until now, and those in "re-entry" to society are going to be people who have spent more years in prison than the released used to. And - the point here - we've been doing not a lot about dealing with this.

recidivism chartThere is some thought on the subject, however, starting with research. The Council of State Governments has a Reentry Policy Council, which looks at just this issue, and a number of states have followed up with councils of their own. One of the first was in Oregon, established last May, and this fall starting to generate some news and reports.

A press release on early stages of the group's work had some useful background: "Oregon prisons currently house nearly 13,500 inmates, a record number due to tougher sentencing laws and the state’s growing population. Each year about 4,000 offenders are released back into the community at the end of their sentences, becoming part of the 34,000 offenders under supervision across Oregon at any given time. Yet over the past decade, Oregon’s recidivism rate has remained relatively stable. One out of every three people released from prison is convicted of a new felony crime within three years of release. Policymakers, practitioners and researchers are increasingly identifying coordination of re-entry efforts as critical to successful outcomes and rehabilitation."

This stuff is a great deal more complex than you might at first think - the implications of bringing these people into a productive place in society, rather than simply marking time till the re-arrest, bring into play a lot of causes and effects. Here's one we just ran across, in a Re-Entry Policy Council brochure:

• People who do not find stable housing in the community are more likely to recidivate than those who do: the Georgia Department of Corrections determined that, with each move after release from prison, a person’s likelihood of re-arrest increased by 25 percent.
• Re-arrest and re-incarceration disrupts income and the ability of both the person arrested and his or her family to comply with a lease agreement.

The thought about "lease agreements" seems almost minor until you begin to spin out all the effects - personal, financial, social - broken deals can have all over the place.

Might be time for Idaho and Washington, which we gather do not have equivalent councils or similar activity, to take a look at this too.