Former State Representative Kevin Mannix wants Oregon to vote for a ballot initiative in November that would send crack dealers, identity thieves, and felony property criminals to jail for at least three years on a first conviction—without the option of drug treatment.
Mannix has built his reputation on being "tough on crime": He was the architect of Measure 11 in 1994, which created mandatory minimum sentences for violent person-to-person crimes like assault in the first degree. His new measure is his most conservative—and controversial—yet, targeting a more emotionally charged type of crime, at least for most Portlanders.
"Most people don't get the gun stuck in their ear, or their daughter raped," says District Attorney Mike Schrunk, referring to Measure 11 crimes. "But pretty much everyone has had their mail stolen, their car stolen, stuff broken into. And this drives people crazy."
"People say 'go after murderers,'" Schrunk continues. "But if it's your lawnmower that gets stolen or your car that gets stolen, people want property offenders shot."
Indeed, sources say early polling for Mannix's measure indicated it would pass easily in Oregon—Mike Riley of Riley Research says he has done research for Mannix, but refused to confirm or deny having done polling on the initiative.
Still, even those opposed to the measure can see why it might attract votes.
"Identity theft is such a sensitive issue that when we see something on the ballot that's supposed to save us from identity thieves, it's not a problem to vote for it," says Alex Hamalian, a criminal defense attorney who sits on the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers' Association's (OCDLA) legislative committee.
Unfortunately, defense attorneys like Hamalian say Mannix's initiative does nothing to tackle the fact that most felony property crimes have their roots in drug addiction. There's also the projected $128-200 million annual expense of sending up to 4,400 more people to prison, should the measure pass.
"The purpose of sentencing is to prevent crime in the future," says Gordon Mallon, president of the OCDLA. "But there is nothing about Mannix's proposal that has been shown to work to do that."
"You're going to take people who would probably benefit from drug treatment, institutionalize them, and put them back out into the community with little or no incentive not to re-offend," says Hamalian.
Mannix, who did not return the
Mercury's calls, told the Statesman Journal earlier this month that "it is unacceptable for a criminal defense lawyer, if his client is drug addicted, to be able to argue to a judge that there should be treatment."
"That's just stupid," Hamalian shoots back. "If you have a client with an addiction problem that contributed to their entry into the criminal justice system, and you can treat that addiction so they're not relying on criminal behavior to feed it, you're doing more to heal society's long-term problems than incarcerating that person for 36 months."
Panicked by the likely success of Mannix's proposal, state legislators drafted a compromise bill, Senate Bill 1087, that will target the same criminals by increasing minimum sentencing for felony property crimes from 19 to 24 months—but that also includes $20 million a year to offer first-time offenders drug treatment. The measure will go head to head with Mannix's proposal on the November ballot.
"You say something outrageous so somebody else can follow up with something reasonable," explains Schrunk, who first proposed the alternative bill.
Details have yet to be hammered out over the drug treatment offered under the compromise measure, although Schrunk says it will likely be consistent with best-practice models. It's also unclear whether either proposal is objectively necessary, since property crimes in Oregon dropped by 13 percent between 1991 and 2005 without either law, according to state figures.
Nevertheless, even progressive legislators are supporting the compromise bill as a way to torpedo Mannix's idea.
"If I had my chance I'd just defeat the Mannix measure. But that's just not going to happen," says State Representative Chip Shields.
"Those of us on the progressive side of the issue might be tempted to vote no on both measures, but a no on both is really like voting yes for Mannix," Shields continues. "It's important that Senate Bill 1087 gets more 'yes' votes than Mannix's initiative."
Meanwhile Sergeant Chris Davis of the downtown Street Crimes Unit—a Portland cop who has considerable day-to-day experience arresting street-level drug dealers—has his own perspective.
"You can still be 'tough on crime,'" he says. "But how about we try being effective?"