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March 3, 2009

Oregon editorial complaining about criminal justice priorities in budget cuts

The Oregonian has this notable new editorial, headlined "On public safety, Oregon loses its balance: Lawmakers close courthouses, block state trooper hiring and cut police training while protecting prison spending."  Here are excerpts:

Cutting beat cops and shutting down Oregon courts while insisting that inmates serve every last second of 70-month sentences doesn't seem like a promising public-safety strategy.

It isn't clear whether lawmakers and the powerful lobbies in Salem -- notably county prosecutors -- think these choices amount to good public safety, or just good politics. Whatever the rationale, it is discouraging how quickly and easily Oregon is moving to shutter its courts one day a week....

All these spending reductions [on courts and cops] may be inevitable at a time when the state budget is in a world of hurt, and legislators are cutting into bone. But Oregonians ought to understand what is going on: This state is making a policy decision to cut police officers, parole and probation and courts. But so far, corrections, in terms of inmate sentences, is off the table....

State Rep. Chip Shields has tried to draw the state's district attorneys and other top public safety officials into a discussion in Salem about how best to spread cuts among criminal justice priorities. Shields, D-Portland, and co-chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Public Safety, points to studies showing that putting more police on the streets is more effective at reducing crime than putting more people in prison.

Shields wants the state to explore ways to save more money in corrections. One way would be to expand what is known as "transitional leave," the final 30 days of an inmate's sentence. On any given day, about 900 inmates in Oregon are held on transitional leave. Shaving their prison time could save millions.

The state's very strong prison lobby will strongly attack this or any other effort to wring some savings out of the state prison system. But the people closest to Oregon's criminal justice system understand that it stands strong on three legs: police, courts and corrections. If Oregon persists in whacking away at just two of them, the whole thing might just topple over.

Some recent related posts on the modern economics of incarceration nation:

March 3, 2009 at 10:55 AM | Permalink

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Comments

As some legislatures attempt to rationalized incarceration policies, it looks like they will run into the obvious problem that we've been ignoring, which is that you cannot incarcerate two million people without creating a lot of vested interests in mass incarceration. Maybe prison guards should have first crack at Obama's new "green" jobs...

Posted by: Economic reality | Mar 3, 2009 11:45:08 AM

Well, here's a nice little flipside to all this "let's release criminals from prison" nonsense:

http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/1456732,w-three-dead-wilmette-home-030209.article

How often do we have to learn this lesson? Killers kill; they get out and they harm others.

So, I have a question, for all you people who think themselves oh-so-enlightened and decry deaths at the hand of the state, why don't awful tragedies such as this stir your emotions? They aren't rare. These deaths were preventable.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 3, 2009 1:19:42 PM

1) Crimes that happen because of lack of police protection kill people just as dead as recidivist crimes by early releasees. 2) Nothing I see in the Oregonian's editorial suggests they favor early release for "killers".

The question seemingly posed by the editorial is, in a resource scarce environment, can Oregon justify holding all offenders (including non-violent offenders) in incarceration for their full sentences, at the cost of reducing police presence and other crime-prevention measures? Given this premise, I must, to cop an Obama line, reject as false federalist's framing of the choice between freedom and security. Contrary to his or her suggestion, there is reason to think that a blanket policy of keeping all prisoners locked will *decrease* public security under the circumstances faced in Oregon.

(A related question is, if anectodal evidence later arises that several people were shot and killed in an Oregon neighborhood where the police had sharply cut patrols, will the oh-so-enlightened turn the tables and accuse federalist of being a hypocrite and not caring about those tragic, preventable deaths? Or can we move past the name-calling and predictable rhetorical feints already?)


Posted by: Choices | Mar 3, 2009 3:25:02 PM

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