Who are Western Prison Project and related groups?


Background information on SAFES, "Crime Survivors for Community Safety" and Western Prison Project

During the 2005 legislative session there will be a concerted lobbying effort to roll back Oregon's criminal justice system. Here is some background information on the people behind that effort.

In 1999 the Oregon Legislature referred seven ballot measures relating to crime victims' rights and criminal justice to the voters of Oregon. The primary opposition to these measures came from a PAC named "Crime Victims For Justice". This PAC was created by a small group of victims of crime and advocates for criminals' rights. The PAC received most of its funding from criminal defense attorneys and the ACLU (see reference 1).

The spokesperson for the "Crime Victims For Justice" was Arwen Bird, a victim left paralyzed by a drunk driver. The strategy of the group was to use victims to derail the victims' rights movement in Oregon and to spread that strategy to other states.

"Crime Victims For Justice" and Arwen Bird opposed all seven of the referred ballot measures. Arwen Bird wrote in the voters pamphlet" (see reference 2):

"I oppose all of these measures and hope that the citizens of Oregon can see through these cynical attempts to use crime victims to turn Oregon into a police state."

After the 1999 election, Arwen Bird and a few others, notably criminal defense attorney Michele Kohler, formed "Survivors Advocating for an Effective System". The mission of SAFES was to reverse the trend toward greater emphasis on public safety and accountability in criminal justice, although that trend arguably had contributed to the reversal of decades of spiraling violent crime (see reference 3).

In September of 2000, Arwen Bird and Michele Kohler joined criminal defense attorney John Henry Hingson to present a seminar for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. During that seminar (a tape of which is available from the NACDL - see reference 4), Ms. Bird and Mr. Hingson explained their strategy for using crime victims to derail the crime victims movement and explained that this strategy could be employed nationwide.

In 2000, Arwen Bird was the largest individual contributor to the Measure 94 campaign. Measure 94 would have repealed Measure 11. According to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, Measure 94 would have resulted in the release of 800 Measure 11 criminals within 90 days. It also would have slashed the sentences of approximately two thousand other Measure 11 criminals and most future robbers, child molesters, rapists and murderers.

In July of 2002, Ms. Bird traveled to Washington, D.C. to testify against the proposed national Crime Victims' Rights amendment (see reference 5).

In 2003, Ms. Bird was awarded a "Soros Justice Fellowship" grant from George Soros' Open Society Initiative to "work towards safer communities and a more humane, effective justice system that promotes prevention over retribution" (see references 6 and 7).

In 2004, Ms. Bird's group, SAFES, merged with Western Prison Project, run by Brigette Sarabi. From the Western Prison Project web site (see reference 8):

"The Western Prison Project exists to coordinate a progressive response to the criminal justice system, and to build a grassroots, multi-racial movement that achieves prison reform and reduces the over-reliance on incarceration in the western states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming and Nevada.

Our core constituencies are those most impacted by the criminal justice system: prisoners, former prisoners, and families of prisoners."

The Western Prison Project is also a recipient of a George Soros grant.

Western Prison Project created a subgroup named "Crime Survivors for Community Safety". This is the group of crime victims who are working for Western Prison Project's mission.

In 2005, Arwen Bird, Brigette Sarabi and Western Prison Project are organizing a lobbying campaign (see reference 9) to try to roll back the changes in Oregon's criminal justice system over the last decade. This despite the fact, from 1995 through 2002, Oregon experienced the largest decrease in violent crime rate of all 50 states (see reference 10).

The interests of "Crime Victims for Justice", SAFES, Western Prison Project and "Crime Survivors for Community Safety" have always been completely aligned with the interests of criminal defense attorneys and criminals and their relatives. There was never really any doubt about this but the merger with Western Prison Project makes it explicit. Their main goal is to see to it that fewer criminals are incarcerated, as few as possible, which means more criminals on the streets. They refuse to acknowledge that such a policy will create additional victimization.

Since 1999, part of the strategy to derail the victims rights movement and roll back criminal justice has been to demonize prosecutors. This is illustrated by their voters pamphlet statements (see reference 2) and the Fall 2004 Western Prison Project newsletter (see reference 11).

Reference 1:
Reference 2:
Reference 3:
Reference 4:
Reference 5:
Reference 6:
Reference 7:Definition of "retribution":
"Deserved punishment for evil done"
- Webster's New World Dictionary
- College Edition
- Library of Congress Number 66-13151
Reference 8:
Reference 9:
Reference 10:
Reference 11:

See Also

Crime Victims For Justice

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