Oregon Criminal Justice Commission Hearing on Impact of Budget Cuts on Public Safety - December 10, 2002


At the end of the 2002 Legislative session, the Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 5100, which mandates across-the-board budget cuts to deal with the shortfall in state revenue. Unless voters approve a tax increase through Measure 28 in January, 2003 or the 2003 Legislature passes new legislation, across-the-board cuts will take effect in early 2003. Their impact is sharpened because two years' worth of revenue shortfalls need to be made up in the remaining six months of the 2001-2003 budget.

On December 10, the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission (OCJC) held a day-long hearing in Salem to hear testimony on the impact of impending budget cuts on public safety. Among those who testified were representatives of the Oregon State Police, the Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, the Attorney General of Oregon, the Deputy Director of the Oregon Youth Authority, the Director of the Oregon Department of Corrections, the head of the Oregon Parole Board, and Crime Victims United.

The speakers laid out for the commission the impact of these cuts on their respective agencies. Here are some of the most noteworthy:

The availability of drug and alcohol treatment and mental health treatment will be reduced.

The State Police will lay off 165 officers and 59 forensic lab employees, closing 4 of 7 forensic labs.

Courts, some public defenders and some district attorneys will go to four-day work weeks and some lower-level crimes will not be prosecuted.

The Oregon Youth Authority will eliminate 286 positions, close a number of facilities and release 250 youth now in close custody.

The Oregon Department of Corrections will lay off 900 staff, close five institutions, and release 3,300 inmates. However, the legislature would need to pass laws to authorized such releases.

Testimony of Crime Victims United

Testimony of Department of Corrections

Testimony of Howard Rodstein, Crime Victims United

I'd like to start my remarks with some good news. Over the last six years, Oregon's serious violent crime rate, as tabulated by the F.B.I, has dropped every year. This is unprecedented in Oregon's recorded history and represents a cumulative savings of 26,000 robberies, aggravated assaults, forcible rapes and non-negligent homicides. Perhaps Oregon is doing something right.

The crime rate is driven by innumerable factors, many of them unknowable. But I believe that a critical factor is the degree to which personal responsibility and respect for law are adopted as pervasive expectations by communities and individuals. The need for public safety funding is driven by public attitudes.

We can not release offenders before their sentences are completed without reducing respect for law and increasing numbers of innocent victims. So we must do everything possible to deal with our budget problems while avoiding these negative impacts. How can we do that?

Of course, this is an enormously complex question and I don't presume to have all the answers. But here are a few ideas.

First, we must take funding from non-essential government programs and put that money into essential services. Some non-essential programs that jump to mind are the Oregon Cultural Commission and the Childrens' Plan. Regarding the latter, now is not the time to be making long-term speculative investments. We think that the "across-the-board" approach to budget cuts fails to recognize essential priorities. We will make our opinion known to the Governor-elect and the legislature.

Second, existing funding in public safety departments must be spread thinner. Unfortunately, there is no way to do this without reducing positions. Fewer people must do the same work.

To get to some specifics . . .

There has been talk of massive release of prisoners from corrections. I'd like to remind you that Article 1, Section 44 of the Oregon Constitution says that sentences pronounced in court can not be altered, except through resentencing in court.

Regarding Measure 11, it was approved by 67% of voters in 1994 and confirmed by 74% in 2000. We will vigorously oppose any changes that run counter to the core principles of Measure 11.

Non-Measure 11 sentences for crimes involving victims must not be cut. Through my work with Crime Victims United, I have met many parents whose children were killed in crimes that suggested manslaughter, but which led to convictions for criminally negligent homicide. The parents, of course, are in devastated by the loss of their children. The second shock comes when they see the responsible person receive a sentence as short as 16 months. The third shock comes when they find that the offender will serve only 80% of the already inadequate sentence. We don't want these parents to suffer a fourth shock.

Federal truth-in-sentencing laws require that state prisoners serve an average of 85% of their sentences in order for states to receive federal funding. Currently, we meet this average only because of Measure 11. If legislators increase earned time to 30%, we will fall below the truth-in-sentencing requirement and will become ineligible for federal funding.

Regarding the Oregon Youth Authority, when the juvenile justice system was cut and capped, in 1987 through 1993, juvenile crime rose 67%. Since Senate Bill 1 overhauled the juvenile justice system in 1995 and created the Oregon Youth Authority, juvenile crime is down 30%. 120 "beds" cut from OYA means 360 youths not served. For many of them OYA is their best chance to straighten their lives out. We need to foster a culture of personal responsibility in our youth by holding them accountable and by pre-emptive education regarding the consequences of criminal actions.

In conclusion, I'd like to remind you of something that you have heard from Crime Victims United since 1983: "Public safety is the first duty of government." So we must get our priorities straight and deal with our budget problems without diminishing respect for law or sacrificing innocent citizens.

Testimony of Director of Department of Corrections, Ben deHaan:

The following is the contents of a DOC informational handout that was given to the OCJC commissioners.


Prison population has increased 80% over the last 10 years.

Growth driven by longer sentences.

Strategy since the early nineties has been to build sufficient bed space to handle increasing number of inmates.

New prison construction currently on hold.

2001-2003 Biennium Budget

DOC has absorbed over $70 million in one time savings and reductions.

HB 5100 requires further reductions of $28 million ($7 million in cuts to community corrections).

The December revenue forecast shows a decline of another $111.8 million requiring further reductions.

 DOC's share is an additional 9$.6 million.

2001-2003 Budget Cuts

To balance the current budget, DOC proposes to:

Apply additional one-time savings to the $28 million (plus the additional deficit from the December forecast).

As a last resort:

Close five institutions and release 3,300 inmates and layoff more than 900 staff.

Unlike county jails and Oregon Youth Authority, DOC does not have release authority.

Release requires legislative approval - legislative concept has been submitted.

3 Cohorts of Inmates Require Different Release Authorities:

2,310 inmates require a simple majority vote of the Legislature.

3,133 inmates require further statutory changes to sentencing laws that require a two-thirds supermajority of legislators.

5,457 inmates must be either sent back to open court for re-sentencing, or a re-amendment of the Constitution to remove that requirement.

2003-2005 Biennium

HB 5100 cuts roll-up to $192 million next biennium, including community corrections.

$7 million in reductions to community corrections rolls-up to 33 million.

One time savings this biennium must be replaced by permanent reductions throughout 2003-2005.

Budget Impact

If DOC must absorb the full $192 million next biennium, release authority and the closure of institutions remain the only viable option.

No new prisons will be constructed next biennium requiring DOC to absorb more than 800 new inmates.

Overcrowding fewer institutions next biennium is potentially dangerous, yielding only marginal savings without reductions in staffing.

Per diem for medical care, clothing and food remain relatively constant.

Releasing inmates represents workload increase for other parts of criminal justice system.

Each return to prison costs taxpayers $57,000. Reductions could lead to increased recidivism.


Changes in sentencing law slowing the growth of the prison system is preferable to release authority.

Other longer terms options include:

Increase transitional leave for eligible inmates from 30-90 days. (est. savings $4.7 million 2003-2005)

Increases in earned time credit for sentencing guidelines cases from 20% to 30%. (42% of the prison population is eligible for earned time) (est. savings $10.9 million 2003-2005)

Releases By County

The DOC information handout included a table showing the number of inmates that would be released on a county-by-county basis. Here is an excerpt from the table.

County Number of Inmates Released   County Number of Inmates Released
Baker 17   Lake 4
Benton 28   Lane 312
Clackamas 187   Lincoln 48
Clatsop 27   Linn 133
Columbia 20   Malheur 40
Coos 81   Marion 372
Crook 16   Morrow 10
Curry 15   Multnomah 1025
Deschutes 70   Polk 36
Douglas 90   Sherman 3
Gilliam 1   Tillamook 14
Grant 5   Umatilla 76
Harney 6   Union 25
Hood 10   Wallawa 0
Jackson 128   Wasco 20
Jefferson 16   Washington 298
Josephine 94   Wheeler 0
Klamath 69   Yamhill 63

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