Public Safety Battle in 2009 Oregon Legislature


The 2009 Oregon Legislature was the venue for yet another battle over the direction of public safety in Oregon. The fiscal challenge created by the recession provided an opportunity for the "soft-on-crime" forces to attempt to roll back two decades of changes that moved the criminal justice system toward the "tough-on-crime" approach.

Months of debate on how to deal with reduced state general funds came to a head in the final weeks of the session. Two competing proposals emerged.

District Attorneys and victims groups lined up behind a proposal that made difficult but temporary cuts designed to deal with the budget challenge without permanently altering the character of the criminal justice system. This proposal left the voter-approved Measure 57, passed in November of 2008, intact.

A group of legislators led by Representative Chip Shields, with the support of a politically active prisoner advocacy group, proposed "suspending" Measure 57 and softening nearly every aspect of the system, including increasing "earned time" for prisoners from 20 to 30 percent, cutting post-prison supervision for the most serious felons from 2 or 3 years to 1 year, effectively cutting probation time in half, and reducing maximum jail time for probation violators from 6 months to 2 months.

The legislators used threats of draconian cuts to police, sheriffs, community corrections and the Oregon Youth Authority to pressure public safety officials to support their proposal, with some success.

In the final days of the session, which ended on June 29th, the soft approach, represented by House Bill 3508, won.

Following the session the battle continued in the pages of The Oregonian. An op ed from Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin, Linn County District Attorney Jason Carlile, and Crime Victims United President Steve Doell appeared on Monday July 13th. A response from Representative Chip Shields appeared on Friday, July 17th. These dueling op-eds encapsulate the debate in a nutshell.

Bergin-Carlile-Doell Op Ed as Submitted to The Oregonian

Bergin-Carlile-Doell Op Ed as Printed by The Oregonian

Shields Op Ed as Printed by The Oregonian

Shields Op Ed with Crime Victims United Commentary