Oregon PTA Misrepresents Measure 11

CRIME VICTIMS UNITED


Despite the fact that it slashes the sentences of hundreds of child molesters, rapists and killers, many of whom will be released in the first 90 days alone, the Oregon PTA is endorsing Measure 94. They did this without asking for or accepting input from Crime Victims United or other Measure 94 opponents, including many members of their own organization.

To make matters worse, the Oregon PTA's position statement on Measure 94 is replete with the false ideas propagated by Measure 94 supporters. It is as if the PTA elite wrote that statement with Measure 94 backers whispering in their ear.

Here is a chronology of the events related to this matter.


On 9/19/2000, Crime Victims United received word that the Oregon PTA was endorsing Measure 94. Crime Victims United president Steve Doell called PTA vice-president Lisa Laursen Thirkill to discuss this. He asked where the PTA had gotten their information about Measure 94. She said from Representative Joann Bowman, a chief petitioner on Measure 94. Steve Doell asked where the PTA got an opposing viewpoint. She said from Representative Joann Bowman, a chief petitioner on Measure 94. When pressed, she added that the PTA also received input from lawyers - defense lawyers.

On 10/9/2000, Howard Rodstein of Crime Victims United hand-delivered a letter addressed to Oregon PTA president Kathryn Firestone. Here is the text of the letter.

Kathryn Firestone
Parent Teachers Association
531 SE 14th
Portland, OR 97214

Dear Ms. Firestone: October 8, 2000

I'm writing to you about Measure 94, a very serious issue for all Oregonians, but particularly for children and those who care about them.

I am the chairman of the Crime Victims United No on 94 Committee, the main opponents of Measure 94. I am also representing the views of Mothers Against Drunk Driving - Oregon, and the Portland chapter of the national organization Parents of Murdered Children. Together, we have 54 years of experience in dealing with the aftermath of violent crime.

We regret that we did not get a chance to present our point of view before your organization took a position supporting Measure 94. We feel certain that if you had known the whole story, you would have come to a different conclusion.

Measure 94 repeals Measure 11 and retroactively slashes sentences for the most vicious crimes, including robbery, assault, kidnapping, sex abuse (child molestation), rape, manslaughter, attempted murder and murder. All 3300 people convicted of committing these crimes since April 1, 1995 will be resentenced if Measure 94 passes. Of this 3300, 88.4 perent were age 18 or older at the time of their crime. The vast majority of them had been convicted of crimes prior to their Measure 11 offense. Among the minority of "first-time offenders" are many people who molested children for years before finally being caught.

These crimes affect children far beyond their numbers. If Measure 94 passes, among those to be resentenced under much more lenient guidelines are 604 people convicted of Sex Abuse I, a crime usually associated with child molestation. The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, which writes the rules for the Measure 94 sentencing system, has estimated that 800 violent criminals and sex offenders will be released in the first 90 days alone. Of these 800, more than 270 are sexual abusers.

One of the people who will benefit from the passage of Measure 94 is Frank James Milligan. He was convicted of Sex Abuse I for the 1997 molestation of an 11-year-old boy. According to police, days before his conviction, while out on bail, Mr. Milligan slashed the throat of a 10-year-old Dallas, OR boy, leaving him to die. Thankfully, the boy survived. It required 20,000 police hours to solve this case. If Measure 94 passes, Mr. Milligan will be resentenced for the Sex Abuse I crime and, as a "first-time offender", would receive a substantial break on his sentence. The Measure 94 presumptive prison term for Sex Abuse I in Mr. Milligan's case is 16 to 18 months (13 to 15 months after "good time".)

Another person who would benefit from the passage of Measure 94 is the person who drugged and raped my friend Carol's 9-year-old daughter. This same person has threatened Carol. During the trial, she had to move her family to an undisclosed location. She was hoping that her daughter could graduate from high school before the rapist was released. She is now considering what she will have to do to protect her daughter and herself if Measure 94 passes. Move into hiding again? Arm herself? Hope for the best? She asked me about this and I didn't know what to tell her.

And yet another case. In 1995, 21-year-old Yolanda Panek was brutally murdered in front of her two-year-old son. The boy is now being raised by Yolanda's mother Susan. The murderer has threatened to kill Susan and kidnap the boy when he is released. Under Measure 11, the murderer will be in prison until the year 2020. Under Measure 94, it is quite possible that he would be released in 2003.

It is not only past victims who will suffer if Measure 94 passes. Most future violent criminals in Oregon will receive shorter sentences. The minimum prison term for murder will go from 25 years to 8 years; for forcible rape, from 8 years to 2 years, 4 months. Minimum terms are important because in many cases the judge has no choice under Measure 94 but to give the minimum sentence.

The cases of many violent youth offenders, even rapists and murderers, will be tried in juvenile court. If convicted in juvenile court they will be released at age 21.

Measure 94 proponents have used extensive misrepresentations to advance their cause. They want you to believe that Measure 11 affects petty offenders. Untrue. Measure 11 addresses sentences for the most serious crimes of violence and sexual abuse.

They want you to believe that, under Measure 94, judges would be free to choose from a wide range of sentences. Untrue. In most cases, under Measure 94 the range of sentences available to the judge is very narrow, being solely determined by the criminal's prior convictions.

They want you to believe that youth are sent directly to adult prison and get no rehabilitation under Measure 11. Untrue. All convicted youth go to the Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) where they receive education, counseling and treatment. Any youth who wants to emerge a better person can stay at OYA until age 25. As of 8/1/2000, there were exactly 7 youth under 18 in adult prison. They got there by assaulting other youth or OYA staff. They are housed separate from adult prisoners.

They want you to believe that Measure 11 is draining the state's treasury. Untrue. Measure 11 costs each Oregonian approximately $15/year. According to Governor Kitzhaber's report on juvenile crime, juvenile crime costs Oregonians an average of $250/year. And that is just juvenile crime. Approximately 1 percent of Oregon's budget is devoted to protecting innocent people from violent criminals through Measure 11 sentences. By comparison, approximately 57 percent of state funds are devoted to education.

Many additional blatant misrepresentations are documented at www.crimevictimsunited.org/measure11/ misrepresentations.htm. Misstatements made by Measure 94 proponents in the voter's pamphlets are documented at www.crimevictimsunited.org/measure94/misstatements.htm.

Many people assume that Measure 11 is the worst thing that has happened to kids in our state. Nothing could be further from the truth. From April 1, 1995 to August 1, 2000, 362 juveniles received Measure 11 sentences. During the same period many thousands of juvenile crimes have been prevented. The OYA reports that juvenile arrests for serious offenses are down by 1500 arrest each year. A survey conducted in Klamath County indicates that 85 percent of youth involved in the criminal justice system say that knowing about Measure 11 makes them less likely to commit serious crimes. Yes, there are 362 people in custody who committed crimes when they were 15 to 17 old. But what about the thousands of children, young people, and parents who were spared victimization?

For many of the 362, a significant stay at the OYA is the best thing that could happen to them. Consider one prominent case, that of Rashaan Coley. At age 14, he had convictions for cocaine possesssion and distribution. He had been through the juvenile court system with no effect. He was living not with adults but with his teenage girlfriend. He was hanging with a crowd of people who, in his own words, were all headed to prison. He was carrying a loaded, stolen handgun and stolen handcuffs. He used these to handcuff and rob a randomly-chosen person and was sent to OYA. In his own words, which appeared in The Oregonian on 9/2/2000, it took him a long time just to overcome his rebelliousness and confront his own accountability. He settled down and got his GED. He now wants to go to college and says he is through with crime. The juvenile court system had already failed in Mr. Coley's case, as it had in the cases of many criminal youth before him. He said "If I'd only done a year in prison, I know I'd probably be in jail right now on a different charge."

Measure 94 is opposed by Crime Victims United, Mother's Against Drunk Driving Oregon, Parents of Murdered Children, Governor Kitzhaber, Attorney General Hardy Myers, Speaker of the House Lynn Snodgrass, and Commissioner of Labor and Industry Jack Roberts. The Oregonian, The Eugene Register-Guard, the Salem Statesman Journal, and the Medford Mail Tribune are among the newspapers that have carefully considered the issue and come out with a strong No on 94.

An endorsement of Measure 94 is as much a stinging rebuke to victims of violent crime as an endorsement of Measure 9 would be to the gay community. The Panek child, my friend Carol's daughter, and the 10-year-old Dallas, OR boy are all in Oregon schools right now. And they represent just the tip of the iceberg.

Crime Victims United feels that the PTA should reconsider its position on Measure 94. At a minimum, I ask you to allow our views to be known by distributing this letter to local PTA presidents. If you would like to discuss this issue, feel free to call me or email me.

Sincerely,

Howard Rodstein
Chairman, Crime Victims United No on 94 Committee

In the following days, a number of PTA mom's, including Cheryl McLaughlin, learned of the PTA's stand and were horrified.

On 10/11/2000, Cheryl wrote to Crime Victims United:

Last night at a PTA meeting, we were given a copy of "The Oregon PTA November 2000 Voter Guide". The Oregon PTA supports measure 94 claiming that in 1999, 193 youth were convicted in adult court (a 500% increase in 5 years) and that "current law makes no distinction between a 15 year old in need of guidance and education and a 35 year old repeat offender."

With the passage of 94, I read (in the Oregonian) more than 800 felons would be set free within a few months of the election. Do you know how many of them are "youths"?

It's very difficult for me to feel sympathy for youths doing time when they commit crimes such as Lawler and Eric Eugene Turner. 

Since last night, I have done some reading on Measure 94 and realize that at our PTA meeting last night, we were not made aware of all the facts. I asked if Measure 94 only affected minors and she said "yes". I now know this is not true and it angers me. I want to set the record straight with our PTA members. However, I did not live in Oregon when Measure 11 passed and do not know how it changed our laws. 

My brother was murdered in 1992 and his killer was out of jail 6 years, 6 months later. I was told he received a 'maximum sentence'. That (the sentence) was the second crime.

I don't want to see the passage of Measure 94. What information can you give me to present to our PTA members.

Thank you.

Cheryl McLaughlin

Cheryl McLaughlin, a board member at her child's school PTA, called Oregon PTA president Kathryn Firestone and expressed her dismay. Ms. Firestone told Ms. McLaughlin to "refrain from expressing my views because I am a PTA board member for our school."

Around 10/19/2000, Crime Victims United received the following letter from Oregon PTA president Kathryn Firestone.

October 17, 2000
Mr. Howard Rodstein
Crime Victims United
P.O. Box 1896
Lake Oswego, Oregon 97035

Dear Mr. Rodstein:

Thank you for your letter of October 8 outlining your concerns about the Oregon PTA position on Measure 94. I fully appreciate the depth of your feeling about this measure. It is a difficult and emotional issue, and we deal with parents on both sides of the issue who have strong feelings.

I would like to explain to you how Oregon PTA has taken it's position supporting Measure 94. All of our legislative decisions are based on our organization's legislative platform and program. The planks of the platform are built by our local unit members. They bring issues, in the form of resolutions, to our annual conventions where they are presented. After debate, they are voted on by the delegates at the convention who represent local PTA units across the state. If the resolution passes, it is added to our platform.

When we issue stands on measures, it is based on this platform. The stands represent what our membership has voted on. As an organization, we are bound by our rules, and need to work within our rules. Every two years, the entire platform is approved by the convention body, and differences and issues that our members have are addressed at that time, can be debated, and then voted on. Our most recent platform was unanimously approved by our membership in April 2000. Not all members will agree on all stands -- but the majority holds, as this is a democracy.

The policy this decision was based on reads: "To develop programs of juvenile protection to strengthen local and state programs of prevention, control, treatment and rehabilitation." And to "Emphasize juvenile delinquency prevention and alternatives to institutionalization. Mandate the removal of juveniles from adult jails and lockups."

On all of our measure information, we stress that the Oregon PTA stands do not require individual PTA members to vote according to our platform. Again, individual votes are NOT bound by official PTA stands. The stands are for informational and educational purposes, letting our membership know that these are the positions that uphold the legislative platform that they have passed. If we have a leadership role in a local PTA, we cannot, in that role, publicly oppose them, but we certainly can vote however we wish. As members of PTAs who do not have leadership roles, we can freely voice our opinions at any time.

Again, I appreciate you sharing your concerns with me. I hope this clarifies the Oregon PTA position, and I ask that you respect the fact that we are an organization with rules and procedures, and our stands represent the wishes of the majority of our organization through a democratic process.

Sincerely,

Kathryn Firestone, President

On 10/23/2000, Howard Rodstein read the Oregon PTA position statement on Measure 94. Until that point, Crime Victims United understood that we had a difference of opinion with the PTA. Reading the position statement made it clear that it was far worse - the Oregon PTA was propagating outrageous misrepresentations. Here is their statement with comments from Crime Victims United in brackets.

MEASURE 94

REPEALS MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCES FOR CERTAIN FELONIES, REQUIRES RESENTENCING. OREGON PTA POSITION: SUPPORTS

Explanation: This measure would repeal the mandatory minimum sentencing required by Measure 11 passed by voters in November 1994. It would also enable those sentenced under these guidelines to appeal their sentence to a court. [WRONG: It REQUIRES resentencing of 3400 violent criminals and sex offenders within 90 days unless the offender requests not to be resentenced]  If this measure passes, it will repeal the mandatory minimums and replace them with sentencing guidelines.

Voters passed Measure 11 in 1994 with the idea that stricter sentencing guidelines would mean that more criminals would have to serve longer sentences, thereby lowering the crime rate. But the consequences have been tragic for many of our youth. [Approximately 360 youth (11%) have been convicted of Measure 11 offenses versus 3000 adults (89%).] These young people are now treated as adults. [Juveniles, even if tried in adult court, are not treated as adults.] Oregon is the only state to impose such unyielding and unproductive punishment on our youth. [All across the country, people have realized that serious youth violence can not be dealt with in juvenile court. Many states have responded with mandatory remand laws.]

The guidelines also apply to youth who are first time offenders. Thus a 15 year old first time offender convicted for the lowest offense under the guidelines, which is Robbery 2, will be in prison for 5 years, 10 months. No exceptions. [This is flat out false. In the very example cited, a judge has the discretion to consider the circumstances and if appropriate, remove the juvenile from Measure 11 altogether. This is because of Senate Bill 1049, an amendment sponsored and supported by Crime Victims United.]

The court has no opportunity to hear the specifics of a case before the youth is sent to adult court, and has no ability to make sentencing recommendations based on the individual circumstances of the case. [False again. See Senate Bill 1049.] And to make it even worse, since they are tried in adult court, they will have a felony record for the rest of their lives. [And thank goodness. In the past juveniles have been able to commit child molestation, rape and murder, and walk away with a perfectly clean record which they can present to employers, even daycare centers and schools.]

Before Measure 11 passed, our courts had the ability to try youth as adults when necessary. For instance, in 1994, 31 youth were convicted in adult court in Oregon. In 1999, that number jumped to 193. That is a 500% increase in five years. [According to the Oregon Youth Authority Close Custody Population Forecast, in 1999, 151 youth were waived to adult court. Of those, 51 were automatically waived for the worst violent crimes and sex offenses by Measure 11. Another 100 were waived by juvenile court judges acting under their own discretion for crimes such as Robbery III, Assault III and Burglary I and II.]

While there are certainly youth who commit crimes that are so offensive that they need to be tried as adults, there are many juveniles whose circumstances and crimes are more appropriately heard and sentenced in the juvenile system. [That's right. And juveniles who commit lesser crimes are heard in juvenile court. Measure 11 covers only the worst violent crimes and sex offenses.] They can then serve their sentence in a juvenile facility with appropriate help, guidance and services. The current law makes no distinctions between a 15 year old in need of guidance and education and a 35 year old repeat offender. [This is flat-out false. First, it is against Oregon law for anyone under 16 to be held in an adult facility. More important, all convicted youth, whether Measure 11 or not, go to the Oregon Youth Authority, not to adult prison. They can stay there until age 25 unless they assault staff or other youth or refuse to participate in the wide array of education, counseling and treatment programs at their disposal. Any youth who wants to come out a better person and law-abiding citizen has every opportunity to do so.]

Because this measure would repeal guidelines that treat all juveniles, including first time offenders, as adults; because these juveniles often have to serve long sentences in adult prisons with few services to help them get their lives back on track; [No juveniles have to serve a sentence in adult prison unless they become violent or refuse treatment. Even the few juveniles who are sent to adult prison (7 as of 8/1/2000) because they are violent are segregated from adult prisoners.] and because our judges need to have the freedom to determine sentences based on the circumstances of a juvenile’s life and the possibility of helping them to avoid further problems with the law, The Oregon PTA supports Measure 94.

On 10/24/2000, in response to these outrageous misrepresentations, Crime Victims United President Steve Doell sent the following letter to Oregon PTA President Kathryn Firestone.

Dear Ms. Firestone:

When we sent our first letter to you, we understood that you took a different position from us on Measure 94, a position that we know puts the lives of Oregon children in jeopardy.

Today we read the Measure 94 statement on your web page, and we now see that you are advancing your position by propagating the lies of the proponents of Measure 94.

You must understand that if Measure 94 passes, 3400 violent criminals and sex offenders will be resentenced under much more lenient guidelines. Eight hundred of them will be released in the first 90 days alone.

When one of these early releases results in the molestation, rape or murder of an Oregon child, we will use our wherewithal and resources to ensure that the people of Oregon know the Oregon PTA's role in that Measure 94 criminal's release.

Sincerely,

Steve Doell
President


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