Measure 11 and Deterrence


The following article appeared in the Klamath Falls Herald and News and on the OregonLive web site on September 25, 2000, about six weeks before the vote on Measure 94. The article was written by Dan Golden, Assistant Director of the Klamath County Juvenile Department.

Does Measure 11 deter kids from committing crimes?

By Dan Golden

Citizens face a decision in November about Oregon's response to violent crime. Passage of Measure 94 would repeal Measure 11. Voters passed Measure 11 in 1994 requiring courts to impose mandatory minimum sentences on criminals convicted of murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping, arson and assaults causing serious injury. The minimum sentence a court can impose is 70 months for serious assault and 300 months for murder. 

Juvenile arrests for violent crimes nearly doubled in Oregon between 1988 and 1994, according to Governor Kitzhaber's crime strategy report. Since passage of Measure 11, this rate has fallen by 25 percent. Measure 11 required that juveniles over the age of 15 accused of those violent crimes be charged, tried, and sentenced as adults if convicted. 

Since 1994, 11 Klamath County juveniles have been convicted of Measure 11 offenses. This is a tiny percentage of the more than 9,000 cases referred to the Klamath County Juvenile Department during those years. 

Is there a connection between the few juvenile convictions under Measure 11 and the dramatic drop in arrests of juveniles for violent offenses? Measure 94's supporters argue that Measure 11 unfairly convicts first time offenders instead of repeat offenders without a deterrent effect on juvenile delinquents.

During the past months, I've conducted a survey of youths in juvenile detention. The youths were being held for probation violations and arrests for committing crimes. None were held on Measure 11 charges. Youths were not asked to supply their names on the forms and no information about Measure 11 was distributed. At the beginning, I supposed that most delinquents were ignorant or unaware of the law. The results surprised me.

Are delinquent youth aware of Measure 11? 

Responses to the survey indicated that youth in juvenile detention were well aware of Measure 11. Eighty-five percent indicated that they had heard about Measure 11, and a similar percentage knew that Measure 11 applies to kids aged 15 to 18. Seventy-five percent knew some of the crimes Measure 11 applies to.

Eighty percent knew that a juvenile charged under Measure 11 would go to trial in adult court. Significantly, 100 percent knew that Measure 11 means longer terms rather than shorter terms in lockup. When asked to write what they knew about Measure 11, one responded, "I know if you get charged with Measure 11 you will be locked for a long time." Another commented that "you can go to jail-jail." 

The survey asked delinquents, "knowing what you know about Measure 11, would you be more or less likely to commit a Measure 11 crime?" Eighty-five percent responded that they would be less likely to commit a Measure 11 offense. 

When asked to write about how they would feel if Measure 11 were repealed, one responded, "I would feel more comfortable knowing that I have less of a chance to be locked up for long periods of time." Another wrote, "I would probably like it because I do lots of things that get me into trouble." One youth simply wrote, "happy." 

Is Measure 11 punishing mostly first time offenders? 

Measure 94 supporters say they want to repeal Measure 11 because it punishes first time offenders rather than repeat offenders. Advocates of repeal have repeatedly claimed that the majority of Measure 11 defendants fit into the first time offender category. If this were true, Measure 11 could be portrayed as a failure at deterring significant numbers of repeat offenders from committing new crimes. 

The claims of Measure 94 supporters are based on information supplied by the Oregon Department of Corrections. The department tabulates felony convictions of inmates sent to prison on Measure 11 crimes, but not misdemeanors or juvenile offenses. Thus, an inmate with a misdemeanor or juvenile record could be counted as a "first time" offender if sent to prison on a Measure 11 conviction. 

Klamath County courts have sentenced 11 juveniles for Measure 11 offenses since the law was enacted. Under Corrections policy, all would be considered "first time" offenders, because their juvenile history would be overlooked. Yet, a check of their juvenile court records showed a different story.

The record reveals that eight of the 11 Klamath County juveniles convicted of Measure 11 charges were repeat offenders, having been charged with crimes in earlier juvenile cases. Four had been charged with multiple felonies. Only three of the 11 juveniles were never charged before and were truly first time offenders when charged with Measure 11 crimes. Interestingly, those three were each charged and convicted of sexual crimes under Measure 11.

Therefore, it is unlikely that a majority of Measure 11 offenders identified by Corrections as "first time" offenders are truly first timers. Proponents of Measure 94 are distorting facts when they claim that Measure 11 mostly applies to first time offenders. If the Department of Corrections included misdemeanor and juvenile records most Measure 11 offenders would be recognized as repeat offenders. 

Measure 11 means deterrence

Since 1994, the Klamath County Juvenile Department has had over 9,000 new cases referred. During that same period just eleven Klamath County juveniles had been convicted of Measure 11 offenses. Despite the few numbers of juveniles convicted under Measure 11, the survey of youths in juvenile detention showed that 80 percent or more knew about Measure 11, knew that it applies to juveniles, and agreed that they would be less likely to commit a violent crime punishable as a result. 

This suggests that Measure 11 has had one of the effects intended by voters. Juvenile delinquents have heard the message: Oregon will not be lenient with violent offenders but will hold them strictly accountable for their actions. Thus, it is not surprising that juvenile arrests for violent crimes are down 25 percent in Oregon since passage of Measure 11. 

Passage of Measure 94 would repeal Measure 11 and cause those already sentenced under Measure 11 to be re-sentenced under previous, more lenient standards. Many would be eligible for immediate release from custody. The message of deterrence reinforced by Measure 11 would be replaced by the message of leniency of Measure 94. This would make some, as one delinquent so eloquently put it, "happy." 

Citizens need to check the facts about Measure 94 and consider whether they would long share in the happiness. 

Dan Golden is assistant director of the Klamath County Juvenile Department.

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