THE MANDATORY minimum sentencing measure on this November's ballot has strong support across the state—except from the groups it's actually supposed to help.
An Elway Research poll conducted last week show that about 60 percent of Oregonians support Measure 73, perennial "tough on crime" politico Kevin Mannix's current effort to get stiffer mandatory sentences for repeat drunk drivers and sex offenders.
But the measure's toughest critics are surprising: prison guards and advocates for victims of sexual violence.
While common sense suggests crime victims' groups and prison guards would back a measure that promises to put people behind bars for longer, the groups worry that the new mandatory minimums would actually hurt public safety in the state.
Measure 73's mandate to make third-time DUIIs a class C felony and extend the minimum prison time of a repeat felony sex offender from 100 months to 300 months will consume an estimated $61.5 million to $92.7 million in state funds over the next five years. Sexual violence resource groups fear the state will suck that money from already poorly funded programs for domestic violence prevention and survivors. Sexual assault victims groups across the state also complain that the measure writers never consulted with them before penning the policy.
"We do have a serious problem with sexual violence in Oregon. One in six Oregon women will be the victim of forceful rape in her lifetime," says Kerry Naughton, crime survivors program director at the Partnership for Safety and Justice, which has put $16,000 into stopping the measure. Naughton didn't hear about the measure until it was already approved for the ballot and says it will directly hurt women and children trying to flee domestic violence; in 2009, there were more than 19,500 requests for shelter that couldn't be met because of a lack of funds.
Rebecca Nickels, executive director of the Portland Women's Crisis Line says if her group had been consulted about a measure to reduce sex crime in Oregon, it would have written exactly the opposite of Measure 73: Paying for prevention and services, not putting more people behind bars. Her group checks in with eight Portland-area shelters five times a day, but still has to tell 60 percent of clients that none of the region's 100 shelter beds are open.
"Sometimes we have to get really creative, saying, 'Can you go to the airport?,' 'Can you go to an emergency room, a coffee shop, or even ride the MAX?'" says Nickels. Measure 73, meanwhile, will create 400 to 600 state-funded beds... in prison. For convicts.
Terrie Quinteros, executive director of the Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, notes that prison time is not very helpful in solving domestic violence because many victims do not report or prosecute their attackers.
"Whether or not they decide to pursue legally, there needs to be services in place for them," says Quinteros.
The state's largest union of prison guards also opposes the measure. The Oregon chapter of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) represents over 1,500 corrections officers at 11 of the state's 14 prisons, and views the measure as an unfunded mandate that will lead to more overcrowding.
"Our members spoke up and said, 'This is bad.' We don't need more inmates. We're going to have to do more work with less resources," says AFSCME political director Joe Baessler.
Measure writer Mannix says the idea that crime victims are against Measure 73 is "bogus."
"You're talking to the author of the victims' rights amendment to the Oregon Constitution," says Mannix, who says he consulted on the measure with district attorneys, police chiefs, sheriffs, and individual victims. Mannix argues that legislators can allocate more money to public safety to make up for the higher prison costs.
"We will be arguing for more money for victims, we refuse to let the legislators stick their heads in the sand and say this is a zero sum game," says Mannix. The Oregon state budget is facing a likely $3.2 billion shortfall in the next two-year budget cycle, when the measure will cost the justice and human services budget an estimated $12.8 million to $16 million.
One victims group does support the measure: Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Mannix says the groups opposing the measure don't understand the issue. "To characterize them as crime victims rights groups, they haven't done a darn thing to protect people from victimization," says Mannix.