Steve Doell Responds To Oregonian Article


On June 15, 2003, The Oregonian ran an article on Measure 11 and its impact on the Oregon criminal justice system. The article contained some inaccuracies and several omissions which added up to a faulty portrayal of what Measure 11 has meant for Oregon.

On June 23, 2003, The Oregonian ran the following response from Crime Victims United President Steve Doell.

The Oregonian recently ran a lengthy news presentation followed by an editorial titled "Measure 11's handcuffs" (June 18). Unfortunately, these pieces perpetuate misunderstandings about Oregon's mandatory minimum sentencing law for violent crimes and serious sex offenses by failing to give readers the background information necessary to evaluate budgetary decisions.

Measure 11 was passed by a two-thirds majority of voters in 1994 and ratified in 2000, when an even larger majority rejected an attempt to repeal it.

The article creates the false impression that Oregon is on some sort of irrational spending binge that is draining the budgets for probation officers and schools. The budget for all of corrections is only 7 percent of the state's $11.3 billion discretionary budget for the current biennium. The article fails to note that Measure 11 accounts for just 1.4 percent. For comparison, education is 56 percent.

The news articles and editorial lay much of Oregon's fiscal crisis at the feet of one of the most successful criminal justice reforms in recent history. What went unsaid is that we spend roughly as much locking up all Measure 11 convicts as we spend providing indigent defendants with Cadillac-quality legal representation. In 2001-03 the state spent nearly $150 million in what The New York Times noted was the highest per-capita expenditure for state-funded defense programs in the entire country. If we are looking for economies in the justice system, why not cast an eye on the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to defense attorneys and their expert witnesses?

You might also get the sense that Oregon has particularly draconian punishments. Measure 11 requires six-year sentences for child molesters, eight years for violent rapists and 25 years for murderers. Many of the longer prison sentences now handed down are the result of judges using their authority to maximize sentences for sex criminals well beyond the Measure 11 minimums. Oregon Democrats, Republicans, independents, liberals and conservatives voted for Measure 11 because they were tired of seeing rapists serve less than three years and murderers as few as eight years for their crimes.

A recent case highlights what Measure 11 can do for public safety. In 1992 James Daniel Nelson murdered a 15-year-old boy. Under the pre-Measure 11 sentencing system he served less than 11 years in prison and was released on March 24, 2003. Now he is the suspected ringleader in another brutal murder that left Jessica Kate Williams dead and a total of 13 people under indictment. Had Measure 11 been in effect in 1992, Nelson would have been in prison until the year 2017.

The Oregonian quoted Oregon Director of Corrections Ben de Haan as saying, "Revenge is expensive." We are indeed in a sorry state if the man responsible for protecting Oregonians can't distinguish revenge from public safety.

The article's numerous omissions add up to a misleading portrayal of Measure 11. For example, did you know that Oregon saw a 41 percent decrease in the violent crime rate from 1995, when Measure 11 went into effect, through 2001, and that this translates to 26,000 fewer robberies, aggravated assaults, forcible rapes and non-negligent homicides? We do not claim that Measure 11 accounts for the entire decrease in violent crime, but we do believe that it made a substantial contribution.

Did you know that, since 1994, the Legislature has carved out exemptions that allow a judge discretion to sentence below the Measure 11 minimum under certain circumstances for all second-degree crimes except manslaughter and for first-degree sex abuse?

Did you know that the cost of Measure 11 turned out to be less than half the estimated cost when it appeared on the ballot in 1994? What other government program achieved exactly what it was designed to achieve at less than half the projected cost?

Did you know that, from 1960 to 1984, while Oregon's violent crime rate increased by a factor of 7.6, the state built one new prison with a capacity of 400 inmates?

Did you know that as of 2001, Oregon had the 19th-lowest incarceration rate among the 50 states, according to data from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics?

Did you know that Measure 11 accounts for just 37 percent of prison population growth going forward, according to the state's forecast?

I can understand if you did not know these things because none of them was mentioned in The Oregonian's articles. And there's more. See for the rest of the story.

Rebuttal To Oregonian Article

More Background Information On Corrections

General Information On Measure 11

Illustrative Cases

Repeat Offenders

Does Measure 11 Deter Juveniles From Committing Crimes?

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