Oregon sheriffs 'make lemonade' from Salem lemons

Pleased with more jail funds, not sentencing changes

By KTVZ.COM news sources
POSTED: 5:19 PM PDT July 10, 2013    UPDATED: 5:19 PM PDT July 10, 2013 
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SALEM, Ore. -

Oregon's sheriffs said the outcome of the just-concluded 2013 Legislature reminds them of the cliche': When the world gives you lemons, make lemonade.

More than a year ago, Gov. John Kitzhaber re-established a Public Safety Commission to review anticipated public safety budget shortfalls in the 2013-15 state budget and to avoid building a costly new state prison. 

Sheriffs said they have been at the table with DAs, police chiefs,  the governor's office and legislators to create an affordable public safety budget.

It proved a daunting task.

"Sheriffs won't support anything that reduces voter-passed, mandatory minimum sentences for Measure 11 violent offenders, period," said Marion County Sheriff Jason Myers, president of the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association and a member of the Governor's Commission on Public Safety. 

"Sheriffs have been clear from day one: Hands off Measure 11, because it is working to reduce crime and because it is the will of the people of Oregon," Myers said. "It's non-negotiable."

House Bill 3194, passed by both chambers and awaiting the governor's signature, did not reduce Measure 11 sentencing, which the sheriffs said is a victory for the law enforcement community. 

Myers said Oregon sheriffs supported HB3194: "It is the best public safety funding package we can get in 2013."

But the bill does make changes to Measure 57 mandatory minimum sentences for property crimes and drug offenses.

"We are not happy about the changes to Measure 57 sentences," Polk County Sheriff Bob Wolfe said, "but that is the bitter pill we must swallow to protect Measure 11 and ensure funding for local jails and treatment programs that help reduce recidivism." 

Deschutes County Sheriff Larry Blanton asserted, "We will make sure drug and property offenders still get caught, prosecuted and punished."

"No sheriff ever wants to release inmates early due to overcrowding, but sometimes we have no choice," Blanton said. "The increased funding to local jails as a result of this bill will really make a difference."

The sheriffs said they have long sought additional state funding to help build local programs for low-level offenders, to keep them from re-entering the criminal justice system over and over again. 

Research data proves that local programs to help addicts and the mentally ill and to help offenders better prepare to be productive members of a community really do work if they are fully funded. 

HB3194 and its companion budget allocations include much-needed funds for these local programs at county jails and work release centers.

Throughout the marathon negotiations during the session, Oregon sheriffs were mindful of the impact reforms could have on crime victims. 

"Our overriding goal is to reduce the number of people committing crimes," Myers said. "The best public safety system is one that reduces victimization by reducing crime at all levels."