Yes on Measure 57, No on Measure 61

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More than one in every 100 American adults is incarcerated in the United States. This is much higher than any other country in the world. Out of the 50 states, Oregon has the fastest growing prison population. Oregon spends more money on prisons than on higher education.

These are just some of the startling facts that Karen Meurer, the campaign organizer from Partnership for Safety and Justice shared with a small group in The Green Onion’s cave on Wednesday, Oct. 15.

Meurer shed some light on Measures 57 and 61. She explained why Oregon taxpayers should be against Measure 61. She also clarified why people who are against Measure 61 need to vote for Measure 57.

Measure 61 does nothing to stop crime before it happens. It’s sole purpose is to take the decision power away from judges by creating mandatory minimum prison sentences for crimes such as drugs, burglary, forgery and ID theft. Instead of being able to consider individual circumstances, judges would be forced to implement a “one size fits all” policy.

Meurer explained that under current law, these crimes assess the offender’s jail time and probation, they are punished but are able to keep their children. However, if Measure 61 passes, the length of minimum mandatory prison sentencing will result in children being taken into foster care. Oregon’s foster care is a less than ideal way for any child to grow up.

Siblings are split up into different families. Foster children are shuffled from household to household with few belongings, a disrupted school career and a need for love.

Male offenders are usually incarcerated due to aggressive crimes. The majority of women offenders are drug addicts and ID thieves whose crimes would fall under Measure 61.

At first it might seem like this would be enough to make a potential criminal think twice, but it’s often not. Studies and statistics prove that initiatives designed to “scare people straight” do not work.

In the 1970s, there was only one prison in Oregon. Currently there are 13 men’s prisons and one women’s prison. As printed in the voters’ pamphlet, if Measure 61 becomes law, at least three new prisons will be needed and existing ones will be expanded between 2010 and 2017.

During the construction, some prisoners might be “farmed out” to other state prisons. Leaving the state, prisoners have increased risk of being raped, beaten and abused.

The new prisons and expansions will require Oregon to borrow over $1 billion. Our children’s generation will still be paying off the principal balance and millions of dollars of interest.

With the Oregon Health Plan and public schools desperate for funding, there are more important programs that need this money.

Measure 61 doesn’t include any drug and alcohol treatment programs. If Measure 61 passes, the few existing programs could potentially be terminated due to lack of funding and lack of space. Classrooms would be turned into dormitories. It would be more difficult for drug addicts to get treatment, so after they finish their 36 mandatory minimum sentences, the cycle starts over again.

Meurer also explained that according to the polls, Measure 61 will get enough votes to pass. The only way to counteract Measure 61 is by voting “yes” on Measure 57. There’s a clause built into Measure 57 so that if it receives at least one more vote than Measure 61, Measure 57 becomes law and Measure 61 gets chucked into the wastebasket.

Measure 57 really is the lesser of two evils. It would still cost extra tax dollars but it is less drastic in the estimated financial impact. Instead of needing at least three more prisons with Measure 61, only one would be necessary.

Measure 57 increases sentences for drug traffickers, thieves that victimize the elderly and repeat offenders of various crimes. Meurer says that it also includes treatment plans for offenders in order to prevent future crime.

We need a more proactive rather than reactive system. Building more prisons for an increasing number of offenders is not an effective way of preventing crime. According to Mark Mauer’s Race to Incarcerate, “Half of all state and federal inmates are currently serving time for a nonviolent drug or property offense.”

By getting drug addicts into effective treatment programs, these people can return to society as functional, taxpaying citizens. If these people are just locked into a cell for 36 months, as Measure 61 demands, they will just continue to offend, spend taxpayer money and be sent back to prison again.

Mauer said a 1997 Research and Development Corporation study showed that spending $1 million on drug treatment would “reduce serious crimes 15 times more effectively than incapacitating offenders by funding more mandatory prison terms.”

As taxpayers, it would be cheaper and more beneficial to the entire community if a few years were spent treating their addictions rather than paying to keep them locked up for the rest of their lives. According to Mauer, it costs $22,000 annually per incarcerated prisoner.

People that work within the Oregon Department of Corrections support Measure 57 over Measure 61. They interact with prisoners every day, seeing firsthand which laws work and which ones don’t.

Vote “no” on Measure 61 and “yes” on Measure 57.

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