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April 26, 2013

Current NRA president vocally supporting (liberal? conservative?) mandatory minimum sentencing reform in Oregon

David Keene, a former chairman of the American Conservative Union who is now serving as president of the National Rifle Association, has this notable new commentary piece in the Salem Statesman Journal promoting sentencing reform in the Beaver State. Here are excerpts:

If you are an Oregon conservative, I hope you’re asking the same question the state’s bipartisan Commission on Public Safety asked: “Are taxpayers getting the most from the money we spend on public safety?”  Oregon has been a leader in effective corrections policy and boasts one of the lowest recidivism rates in the nation.

But the state is trending in the wrong direction when it comes to corrections spending, and much of the growth is due to mandatory minimum sentences that violate conservative principles.

Oregon criminal justice agencies predict that the state’s prison population will grow significantly over the next 10 years, and that the growth will be composed mostly of nonviolent offenders. The expected inmate surge is projected to cost Oregon taxpayers $600 million, on top of the biennial corrections budget of $1.3 billion.

The time is ripe for comprehensive criminal justice reform — not only supported by Oregon conservatives, but led by Oregon conservatives.

We believe all government spending programs need to be put to the cost-benefit test, and criminal justice is no exception.  Oregon has done a good job with this in the past but is slipping, by locking up more offenders who could be held accountable with shorter sentences followed by more effective, less expensive local supervision programs....

As conservatives, we also believe that a key to protecting our freedom is maintaining the separation of powers between the branches of government.  Such protection is lost when so-called “mandatory minimum” sentences force the judicial branch to impose broad-brush responses to nuanced problems.  Mandatory minimums were adopted in response to the abuses of a few judges decades ago, but have proven a blunt, costly and constitutionally problematic one-size-fits-all solution begging for reform.

The commission’s recommendations make modest prospective changes to mandatory minimums under Measures 11 and 57.  These measures have given prosecutors unchecked power to determine sentences by way of charging decisions, regardless of the facts of the case, or the individual’s history and likelihood of re-offending.

The reform package now before the Legislature would restore the constitutional role of the courts for three of the 22 offenses covered by Measure 11. Judges could still impose the stiffest penalties where necessary, but would regain discretion in sentencing appropriate offenders to shorter prison terms or less expensive, more intensive community supervision.

These sensible reforms will restore some checks and balances between prosecutors and the courts, allow prison resources to be focused on serious violent offenders and let taxpayers know that their public safety dollars are being spent more wisely.

April 26, 2013 at 10:18 AM | Permalink

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"...maintaining the separation of powers between the branches of government. Such protection is lost when so-called “mandatory minimum” sentences force the judicial branch..."

Oh..I see. What laws do the judicial branch uphold? Those wouldn't be the ones
passed by the legislative branch, would they?

Perhaps the judicial branch ought construct its own laws and sentences; surely the courts could manage their own impeachments as well.

It's not as though SCOTUS of this withered branch has not seized the questionable right to:
» make null and void state laws which allow execution of 17-year-olds, mentally ? ? ?, rapists, and for a time,
effectively of any murderer (Furman v Georgia), to
appeared it would fail to win passage.
* * *
» demolish laws banning the murder of unborn children, to

» abolish school prayer, posting the 10 Commandments, and to

» consider creating homosexual "marriage", thereby de facto> and de jure> CONSTRUCT & PASS legislation.

No, you're right "Conservative": thereof and hereof, the judicial branch has been demoted to abject impotence.

Posted by: Adamakis | Apr 26, 2013 11:21:44 AM

From the story: "Oregon has been a leader in effective corrections policy and boasts one of the lowest recidivism rates in the nation."

I'm always bemused when someone says, as this story does, "Our policies have been really successful, so now we need to turn away from them."

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 26, 2013 12:02:14 PM

But Bill, how can low recidivism be achieved if we don't lock'em up for 40 yrs and let'em die in prison...AFter all we now know as you keep reminding us, that supernatural prison sentences are the main cog that makes the streets safe..Heaven forbid...We give anyone a break from a lifer type fedreal sentence, 3553 factors would curl up and die...and so would you Bill..

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Apr 26, 2013 2:54:14 PM

MidWestGuy --

"But Bill, how can low recidivism be achieved if we don't lock'em up for 40 yrs and let'em die in prison...[?]"

You'd have to ask Mr. Keene. He's the one who says that Oregon has achieved a low recidivism rate by following its present incarceration policies.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 26, 2013 3:49:07 PM

"so now we need to turn away from them."

Infantile Greek Stegodyphus spiders devour their mother (matriphagy), even after she protects them
for 2 weeks after birthing them: an apt analogy?

Posted by: Adamakis | Apr 26, 2013 4:24:54 PM

The proposal Keene is supporting apparently would eliminate or reduce mandatory minimums for three out of 22 offenses currently subject to them, thus leaving the current system in place for the remaining 19. That isn't really consistent with Bill's "so now we need to turn away from what's made us so successful" line. It's perfectly consistent with thinking that mandatory minimums have both costs and benefits, and which outweighs the other depends on the particular offense and the particular historical circumstances and it may be possible to make incremental improvements to a reasonably well-functioning system in the light of experience.

Posted by: JWB | Apr 26, 2013 4:38:20 PM

JWB --

Unless Keene were thought to be proposing a some sort of noteworthy change, there would be no reason for Doug to post about it. He did not title this piece as, "Current NRA president vocally supporting (liberal? conservative?) status quo continuation of almost all mandatory minimum sentencing provisions in Oregon."

You also say, "... mandatory minimums have both costs and benefits, and which outweighs the other depends on the particular offense and the particular historical circumstances and it may be possible to make incremental improvements to a reasonably well-functioning system in the light of experience."

Perhaps you might have considered saying this same thing on the tread in which Doug endorsed the Leahy-Rand measure to allow judges to poke holes in EVERY mandatory minimum. But I didn't hear then that we should pick and choose, nor did I hear that, all depending on the particular offense and the historical circumstances, perhaps we should consider ADDING a few MM provisions, rather than allowing unlimited exceptions to all of them.

The decision to endorse nuance should be less selective.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 26, 2013 4:58:54 PM

I'm not personally aware of any major offense category where what I would personally consider overlenient sentences are common enough that adding a new MM would strike me as a sensible reform on balance, but I certainly don't claim my knowledge is comprehensive, especially at the state level, so I would be open to persuasion.

Nor can I think of any current significant category of federal crime where keeping the currently-existing exceptionless MM's in place makes sense. Federal crimes are just not, by and large, intrinsically serious crimes, now that piracy, treason, and blowing up interstate railway bridges make up such a small percentage of the docket. If the underlying conduct in a particular case is extreme, it's typically being squeezed into a statute that sweeps much more broadly, making it hard to have a sufficiently focused MM. By contrast, I believe a lot of the Oregon MM's apply to intrinsically serious crimes - the kinds that are violent and were felonies at common law (probably capital offenses in Blackstone, not that that narrows it down very much . . .).

I'm not sure why Doug thought Keene's piece was worth highlighting, given what I thought was its fairly mild tone and the modest scope of the reform being supported. After all those years at ACU and now NRA, Keene could certainly be more red-meat/over-the-top in rhetoric if he wanted to.

Posted by: JWB | Apr 26, 2013 6:32:01 PM

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