New polling data shows that most Oregonians agree the state's laws around incarcerating kids are in dire need of improvement.
A survey of 600 registered Oregon voters found that 88 percent of Oregonians want the state's juvenile criminal justice system to focus more on "prevention and rehabilitation" than "punishment and incarceration."
This progressive perspective crosses partisan lines, with 80 percent of Republicans, 87 percent of Independents, and 96 percent of Democrats seeking this change. The study was conducted by research group GBAO on behalf of the ACLU of Oregon
Researchers looked specifically at how Oregonians consider policy issues currently being hashed out at the Oregon Legislature, like ending life without parole sentences for youth (Senate Bill 968) or keeping youth out of the adult prison system (Senate Bill 969).
The poll found that 61 percent of Oregonians want to eliminate life without parol sentences for Oregon youth—regardless of their charges—and instead grant all people under 18 a chance for parole after 15 to 20 years behind bars. And 81 percent of Oregonians would like youth accused of any crimes to be placed in a juvenile justice facility, not an adult prison, unless a judge rules otherwise in a special hearing.
In Oregon, an incarcerated youth is automatically transferred to an adult prison at age 25. Seventy-seven percent of Oregonians polled want a judge to re-evaluate a youth's sentence before that transfer, an idea touted in Senate Bill 966.
A majority of polled Oregonians (80 percent) also endorsed a plan proposed in Senate Bill 1008, which would allow youth who are tried and convicted as adults to be re-evaluated halfway through their sentence by a judge. The judge would have the option of allowing the youth to serve out the rest of their sentence on parole, rather than in prison.
All four bills will be heard by the Oregon Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday morning.
This sweeping support for rehabilitation over incarceration for convicted kids shows a significant shift from just a few decades ago, when lawmakers trumpeted "tough on crime" policies, like Oregon's Measure 11, which allows youth as young as 15—who've been charged with violent crimes—to be prosecuted as adults.
"This a call to action for the Oregon Legislature to shift to what we know works with youth," says David Rogers, director of the ACLU of Oregon, said in a press statement. "Treatment and education programs, not prisons, are the best way to help youth make better choices, stay on a path towards success, and get back on track when they need help.”