Here is a chart the state government put together this year. Can you understand what it says?
It's simple, but surprising: From 1995 to 2000, our state's incarceration rate jumped 50 percent. And property crime dropped by 20 percent. But in recent years, from 2005-2009, the rate of incarceration basically flatlined and property crime dropped by 36 percent. This is the largest property crime drop in the entire country.
But this week, the legislature failed to suspend a "tough on crime" measure that will force the state to spend at least $32 million over the next six years to put 1,000 more people in jail for nonviolent property and drug crimes. The exact kind of crimes that are dropping without needing to increase the incarceration rate. GAAAAHHHHHHH.
As I reported in this week's news section, the people in charge of criminal justice in the state think this is a bad idea. The governor's budget didn't account for it. But now we're stuck with it. The stiffer-sentences law, based on Measure 57, goes into effect in this coming January.
And why did legislators not push to suspend putting this budget bomb into effect for another couple years? Because of politics. Tough on crime groups launched into attack mode this month, bombarding the home districts of Republicans who voted to suspend the law during the last session with robocalls, print, and radio ads costing at least $7,300. Read all about it here.
Oregon voters passed Measure 57 in 2008, when it got backing from the legislature because its passage would invalidate another, even more expensive tough-on-crime measure on the ballot, in a large part because it included a provision for addiction treatment.
But, to add salt to the wound, the version of Measure 57 that winds up becoming Oregon law will likely not be the version Oregon voters passed. Nope. Several legislators told me this week that the current version of the law cuts money for treatment to make the measure cheaper.
So the part of Measure 57 that made progressives reluctantly swallow it in 2008? It just got sliced. We're back to the more-prison-only cure.
I retroactively yank our endorsement of the measure, which now reads like a sad note to the future: "The point is, you should vote for Measure 57 even if prison spending makes you queasy because at least it promotes rehab... But don't take our word for it: John Kroger convinced us that this isn't simply a "lesser of two evils" measure, explaining that the drug treatment program it contains is exactly the kind he would have asked for once he takes up the attorney general post."