The Oregon commission on public safety, tasked with making suggestions on cutting corrections costs while not harming public safety, has its report out, and some of the pieces of it seem clear enough.
The legislature, convening in February, may well take a good look at what it suggests.
Some of the core of it is in these summary paragraphs, worth some attention:
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What the Commission found in Oregon’s data was, as expected, a state with tremendous public safety achievements. Commissioners were in complete accord that we begin our process by taking stock of the many things we have done well in our public safety system. Paramount among these is the historic and sustained crime decline we have experienced in Oregon. What’s more, we have achieved this crime decline with a comparably modest incarceration rate (still below the national average) and a prison system that focuses largely on offenders convicted of violent and sex offenses. This means that, for the most part, our state is appropriately focusing its most expensive public safety resource on the offenders who need it most. Finally, through its renowned commitment to evidence‐based practices, Oregon’s corrections system has achieved one of the nation’s lowest recidivism rates.
However, the Commission found that Oregon has lost ground on some of these achievements over the past 10 years. Even though our state imprisonment rate hovers below the national average, it has grown at over three times the rate of the national average in the last decade. During that same period, Oregon’s prison admissions have grown to include increasing percentages of nonviolent offenders, diluting the state’s strategy of concentrating prison beds on the violent and sex offenders who warrant them most. Oregon also has been handing down longer sentences for all offense types, including nonviolent offenses. Despite a growing body of research that points to the diminishing public safety returns of longer prison sentences, Oregon offenders are staying longer in prison today than they have at any point in the last decade.
Finally, the Commission found that as the state directs increasing resources to prisons, resources for Oregon’s community corrections programs, lauded across the country for their success in reducing recidivism, have shrunk. Many counties face significant shortfalls in the sanctions and services they need in order to hold offenders accountable at the local level.
Additionally, critical public safety agents like sheriffs, victim service providers, and the state police have gone underfunded. These shortfalls pose a real and pressing threat to sustaining Oregon’s reductions in recidivism and victimization.