Rhetorical Battles Break Out in Register-Guard


In late September of 2005 a war of words broke out in the pages of the Eugene Register-Guard. The debate was over the performance of the 2005 Oregon Legislature in regard to DUII and other criminal justice issues. Five op-ed pieces and a letter to the editor appeared.

The first op-ed was written by Anne and Bruce Pratt, volunteer lobbyists for Crime Victims United. That was followed by a piece from Arwen Bird, founder of several victims groups which advocate for criminals. Next was an op-ed from State Representatives Mitch Greenlick and Chip Shields. Next an op-ed written by Lane County District Attorney Doug Harcleroad and Clatsop County District Attorney Joshua Marquis appeared. Then Marie Armstrong, a Crime Victims United member, responded to Bird's op-ed with a letter to the editor. Finally an op-ed by Crime Victims United President Steve Doell appeared.

September 27, 2005

On drunken driving bills, lawmakers swerve

By Anne Pratt and Bruce Pratt

All we have to show for our 63 trips to the Oregon Capitol to lobby for tougher laws against driving under the influence of intoxicants is sore feet, a humongous gas bill and extreme disappointment in the 73rd Legislative Assembly.

As advocates for victims of crime, we lobbied more than a dozen DUII bills addressing prevention and tougher sanctions.

What is even more alarming amounted to LUII - legislating under the influence. Alcohol is apparently still an acceptable political lubricant in Salem. We and several others saw this while contacting legislators during the final day and evening sessions of the Legislature. While we are neither prohibitionists nor members of the Temperance League, we do believe the time to celebrate is when the work is done, not while deciding serious matters for the state of Oregon.

Methamphetamine seemed to grab all of the attention and energy early on. We were halfway through the session before we realized that many legislators did not seem to connect the dots: Hello, meth addicts also drive. Up to 67 percent of those arrested for DUII are under the influence of both drugs and alcohol.

Several of our DUII bills passed the House nearly unanimously, only to be treated with utter disregard by a dysfunctional Senate Judiciary Committee. We soon realized the committee had no intention of passing any DUII bills that had significant consequences. Members seemed to be locked into their own personal agendas.

Sen. Charlie Ringo, D-Beaverton, said we were taking away privileges from people who simply needed treatment. He asked aloud how many DUII bills he would have to hear this session and the next. There had been a whole slew of them last session, he said. Two hundred-plus Oregonians are killed and more than 2,000 are injured each year by intoxicated drivers. We emphasized that all DUII offenders are evaluated, and then receive treatment. The answer, Sen. Ringo, is, "Yes, we are coming back."

Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, the chairwoman of Senate Judiciary, claimed she was after the worst offenders, yet she would not grant a work session on legislation that held high-risk repeat offenders more accountable. This legislation had passed the House with near-unanimous votes. Burdick attempted more than once, at the request of the Western Prison Project and the criminal defense bar, to increase "earned time" for criminals.

Three bills backed by Crime Victims United were assigned to Senate Rules Committee. We managed to squeak one bill out of committee after frustrating negotiations - House Bill 2828, which would have increased the penalties for those who kill or injure while under the influence when they have killed or seriously injured someone previously.

We were treated disrespectfully by the chairwoman, Sen. Kate Brown, D-Portland, and bounced around for nearly two months before the bill was OK'd by the committee with minor changes just in time for the end-of-session rush.

HB 2828 then passed the full Senate 29-1 and was sent to the House for concurrence. To her credit, Burdick seemed to have a change of heart and supported the bill on the Senate floor and pushed it in the House.

House Democrats, however, took advantage of the fact that Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, a sponsor of the bill, was home recovering from a heart-related illness. His own colleagues took down his bill in the last hours of the session!

HB 2828 had previously passed the House 54-4.

It was extremely disappointing that alcohol could be detected on the breath of several legislators and their aides. How can sound decisions be made under these circumstances?

There were winners in this legislative session: Barker; Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany; Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Astoria; Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day; Sen. Jason Atkinson, R-Ashland, and many others worked for the people of this state.

Yet overall, Oregonians lost in this session. Oregonians need to be more in tune, especially at election time, to who is representing them.

For example, Reps. Chip Shields and Mitch Greenlick, both D-Portland, never missed an opportunity to oppose public safety bills, but were readily at hand to speak up for criminals. Are they representing the will of their constituents?

We urge Oregonians to become more involved in the legislative process; they may not be getting what they're paying for.

Anne and Bruce Pratt of Springfield lost their son to a drunken driver in 1998 and have advocated for tougher DUII laws in the past three legislative sessions. They are members of Crime Victims United.

October 3, 2005

Harsher criminal penalties not the right solution to drunken driving

By Arwen Bird

In the 12 years since being paralyzed in a crash caused by a man convicted of drunken driving, one thing I've come to appreciate is that not all crime victims think or feel the same.

While my heart goes out to Anne and Bruce Pratt for the loss of their son, I believe that the solutions that they endorsed in their Sept. 27 guest viewpoint, "On drunken driving bills, lawmakers swerve," are not going to work to prevent driving under the influence or the harm it causes.

The allegations made in the column by the Pratts and Crime Victims United that House Bill 2828 failed because some legislators were "readily at hand to speak up for criminals," or because other legislators were under the influence of alcohol, are completely misleading.

As a member of Crime Survivors for Community Safety, a program of the Western Prison Project, my colleagues and I made many more than 63 trips to the Legislature to advocate for policies that we believe will help survivors and improve our criminal justice system. Not all of what we wanted was passed, but that is how things work in Salem.

The reality is that this legislation failed because it was expensive, shortsighted and wouldn't have done anything to prevent the likelihood of future injuries or deaths from driving under influence of intoxicants.

The thinking behind HB 2828 is based on an eye for an eye - if you hurt or kill someone, you should be locked up for the rest of your life (25 years, under the Pratts' proposal).

To apply that logic on a personal level, the sentence for the man who paralyzed me would be paralysis. This analogy demonstrates how ridiculous and expensive this line of thinking is.

The Department of Corrections reports that it costs close to $30,000 a year to incarcerate an adult prisoner. It doesn't make good grounds for a way to live your life, and it certainly doesn't work when shaping public policy.

People choose to drink and drive for complex reasons. Alcohol and drug abuse is a disease of addiction, and the threat of lengthy incarceration does not prevent drunken drivers from getting behind the wheel. A large and growing body of research points to the need for multifaceted approaches to addiction and crimes related to this disease.

Combining therapy (to change people's behavior) with drug and alcohol treatment and job skills training helps give people more life choices. When people with this disease can address the roots causes of their addiction, they make better and less harmful choices in the future. This is true accountability - holding people responsible for the harm they have caused in ways that work to ensure that they will not make the same decision again.

Instead, the Pratts and Crime Victims United seem to think that locking up people for a very long time and at great expense is the only answer. And anyone who promotes an alternative viewpoint can't be trusted, even when they offer proposals that are reasonable, just and affordable. What is lost in the discussion are the very real needs of survivors and communities.

At the same time that Crime Victims United and their supporters proposed these costly and ineffective solutions to DUII, the state has cut funding for victims' assistance and survivors' treatment.

Survivors like me want to know that the state is doing what it can to prevent future victimization. We also deserve the assurance that our needs will be met after we have been victimized.

Imagine what the state could do for survivors if we allocated even half of the resources we spend on prisons toward services for survivors of violence. Sadly, none of these proposals, especially the ones that expand mandatory sentencing laws, provide anything tangible for survivors.

I would like to propose a new value for our criminal justice system: "Never give up on people." Never give up on survivors who need assistance years after their victimization. Never give up on people dealing with addiction and who make choices that cause harm in the meantime.

This kind of thinking provides the energy and creativity needed to create comprehensive solutions that would end DUII and other violence. As someone who lives each day with the consequences of one man's choice to drink and drive, I won't give up the fight to prevent future harm.

I invite others to join me in the struggle to create true accountability and justice for survivors. But let's do it in a way that really works to prevent drunk driving and other kinds of crime.

The Legislature was right to reject HB 2828 and other proposals supported by CVU and the Pratts. A broader, more comprehensive approach is clearly needed.

Arwen Bird is a Justice Advocacy Fellow and member of Western Prison Project and its Crime Survivors for Community Safety program.

October 17, 2005

Costly mandatory sentences don't halt crime

By Mitch Greenlick and Chip Shields

Oregon is spending more on prisons than universities and community colleges combined. Prison spending soared more than 30 percent in the last legislative session. And with college tuition going through the roof, funding for state troopers being cut, drug and alcohol treatment disappearing and class sizes exploding, Oregon could not afford yet another mandatory minimum sentencing bill last session.

That's why House Bill 2828 B failed - not because of some nefarious plot as outlined in the Sept. 27 guest viewpoint by Anne and Bruce Pratt, members of Crime Victims United ("On drunk driving bills, lawmakers swerve"), but because mandatory sentences are expensive and don't work to prevent crime.

Instead of facing the facts about our state's budget and considering what really works to prevent driving under the influence of intoxicants, the Pratts and Crime Victims United prefer personal attacks on legislators like us who disagree with their positions on criminal justice issues.

One of us, Rep. Chip Shields, is a social worker specializing in drug and alcohol treatment and has reduced drunken driving by helping hundreds of alcoholics and addicts regain sobriety.

The other, Rep. Mitch Greenlick, is director of the Oregon Health & Science University's National Substance Abuse Clinical Trials Center and has devoted his life to changing the behavior of alcoholics.

We take a back seat to no one in our commitment to reducing drunken driving.

That's why we both supported House Bill 2986, which would ban the purchase of alcohol by repeat drunken drivers. Unfortunately, Crime Victims United failed to support this legislation.

Longer, mandatory sentences that don't include dollars for actual treatment don't make us safer. Locking someone up for 25 years instead of the current mandatory sentence might make some people feel better, but it really won't stop the next accident.

The growth of our prison system threatens to swallow billions of general fund dollars while we continue to build $200 million prisons we'll be paying interest on for the next 25 years. Lane County residents should remember there are plans next session to push through a huge prison in Junction City at an astronomical cost to taxpayers.

While the Pratts are considered nice people at the Legislature, Crime Victims United and its president are well known throughout the Capitol for their bullying tactics. Cross them and pay the price.

Well, neither of us will ever be afraid to vote our conscience simply because they threaten to come after us in the next election season.

Finally, the Pratts' opinion piece had a considerable misstatement. It said that Democrats in the House of Representatives took advantage of the fact that the bill's sponsor, Rep. Jeff Barker, was absent due to illness on that final day. We would have opposed the bill regardless of Barker's presence, but the Pratts are mistaken: the bill was sponsored by Republican Rep. Jeff Kropf on behalf of Crime Victims United. It was not sponsored by Barker.

It's easier to throw stones at people who oppose you than to get the facts, sit down at a table and come up with workable, affordable, reasonable solutions to the problem of drunken driving. Longer mandatory sentences, with no judicial discretion, are expensive and just don't work. That's why the Legislature refused to pass HB 2828 B.

We look forward to sitting down with the Pratts during the next legislative session to come up with real solutions to drunken driving.

Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, and Chip Shields, D-Portland, are members of the Oregon House of Representatives.

October 17, 2005

Measure 11 brings justice and lower crime rate

By Doug Harcleroad and Joshua Marquis

Citizen lobbyists Anne and Bruce Pratt struck a nerve with their unusually candid Sept. 27 guest viewpoint about their efforts to lobby the 2005 Oregon Legislature.

In a pair of responses, Arwen Bird of the Western Prison Project (Register-Guard, Oct. 3) and Portland-area state Reps. Mitch Greenlick and Chip Shields (Register-Guard, Oct. 10) wrote that a bill that would have enhanced penalties for repeat-killer drunken drivers (House Bill 2828) failed because it represented bad policy. We believe that Greenlick's and Shields' views are not shared by the vast majority of their legislative colleagues or Oregon voters.

The bill that the Pratts, whose son was killed by a drunken driver, helped write would have called for a 20-year prison sentence if it were the second time the driver had been convicted of killing one or more people with his car while drunk or high.

Unfortunately, that's not a hypothetical. In 1999, James Willie, while driving on the Sunset Highway near Seaside, high on a cocktail of illegal drugs, slammed his car into Martin Ferlitch's vehicle. Martin and his 12-year-old granddaughter, Jennifer, were killed. It wasn't the first time Willie had been convicted of killing people. In 1977, he was sentenced for causing the death of two people while drunk and served less than two years in prison.

As longtime prosecutors in Oregon, we have watched as the violent crime rate has plummeted over the last 10 years. Last year, USA Today rated each state's improvements in public health. Oregon was applauded for its reductions in violent crimes.

We believe much of that reduction can be attributed to Oregon voters passing and then reaffirming Measure 11, which ensures that those who commit the worst of violent felonies and sexual offenses against children actually go to prison, usually for six to eight years. Does anyone believe that the violent rape of a child deserves anything less than eight years in prison?

Another major reason violent crime is down is the move toward truth-in-sentencing laws which help to assure that a criminal will actually serve at least 80 percent of the sentence handed down by the judge.

To those who would have you believe Oregon has become a penal colony, it should be noted that Oregon has an incarceration rate lower than almost two-thirds of the other 49 states. Of our state tax dollar, eight cents is spent on prisons and another seven cents pays for judges, police, public defenders and a tiny slice of the budget of prosecutors' offices. (The bulk, 56 cents, pays for education.)

Crime strikes at all parts of our community and disproportionately hits our most vulnerable citizens, particularly women, children and people of color. A balanced criminal justice system needs a wide array of tools including probation, treatment and incarceration. Almost 75 percent of people who are convicted of felonies receive probationary, not prison, sentences; therefore, it is particularly important that we provide sufficient incentive for probationers to comply with treatment, sobriety and the other programs that attempt to steer them away from future crime. Without adequate jail beds at the county level or prison beds at the state level, the threat of future imprisonment often rings hollow. Criminals quickly learn there is little consequence for their misconduct.

As district attorneys, we stand to gain nothing by increasing the prison population. We don't get bigger budgets or salaries based on the number of criminals we lock up. We have advocated for a system of accountability because it is just and sensible public policy.

Criminals and criminal defendants have skillful and well-funded advocates in Arwen Bird and Chip Shields. The dead don't have as well financed a lobby, so we try to speak for them and remind our legal system that it exists to dispense justice to all citizens, not just those accused of crime.

Doug Harcleroad is Lane County district attorney, and Joshua Marquis is Clatsop County district attorney. Both are past presidents of the Oregon District Attorneys Association. Marquis worked as a deputy district attorney in Eugene in the early 1980s and is currently vice president of the National District Attorneys Association.

October 19, 2005

Protect victims, not criminals

I resent Arwen Bird's attack on Anne and Bruce Pratt and Crime Victims United in her Oct. 3 guest viewpoint.

As a member of Crime Victims United and MADD, I made many of the 63 trips to the state capitol with the Pratts, with the hopes of passing DUII bills and a chance to save the lives of future DUII victims. Bird is from a committee of many; the Pratts and I are volunteer citizen advocates who receive no pay, grants or reimbursement.

Bird would also like you to think that we believe in locking people up for good if they get a DUII. She fails to mention that House Bill 2828 called for 20 years for causing death or serious injury a second time while driving under the influence, as in the case of James Lincoln Willie, who has killed twice with a total body count of four.

A drinking driver also killed my son, Chance, and seriously injured his girlfriend, Sara. Sara wanted to be a veterinarian but instead is totally supported by the state of Oregon. She will never even drive or work again.

I'm not looking for an eye for eye, but after four felonies and numerous failed attempts at treatment, this killer is now serving time in a federal prison. Just think of how much money all this is costing taxpayers.

I believe Bird and the organization she represents, the Western Prison Project, are primarily interested in the welfare of criminals, not crime victims or survivors of crime.


October 31, 2005

Legislators wrong on crime bill

By Steve Doell

Since Anne and Bruce Pratt's guest viewpoint on their experience at the Oregon Legislature was published Sept. 27, there have been two opposing responses. Since the murder of my 12-year old daughter, Lisa, in 1992, I have lobbied in eight legislative sessions, first as a citizen, then as a member of Crime Victims United, and now as its president.

I was present at the close of four of those eight sessions. On those last days, I have witnessed drinking by some legislators and staff, as reported by the Pratts. I let it pass, although I believe that it is wrong to drink on the job - especially when you're doing the people's business.

At the close of this year's session, I was lobbying for an important bill relating to driving under the influence of intoxicants (House Bill 2828-B) with two members of our organization, Anne Pratt and Jayne Ferlitsch, both of whom lost family members to intoxicated drivers. When these women indicated their disgust that they were lobbying legislators who smelled of alcohol or were visibly intoxicated, it was hard to ignore.

Reps. Mitch Greenlick and Chip Shields did not address this issue in their Oct. 10 column, nor did their ally, self-described victims' advocate Arwen Bird, in her Oct. 3 piece. I'm disappointed that they ducked this issue, but the Public Commission on the Oregon Legislature evidently believes the problem is serious enough to take up.

Greenlick and Shields say that Oregon is "spending more on prisons than universities and community colleges combined." This is flat-out false. The Department of Corrections budget - excluding community corrections, which is not prison - is $901 million. According to the Legislative Fiscal Office, the state budget for universities and community colleges is $1.33 billion.

They say that "prison spending soared more than 30 percent." Also false. According to the Legislative Fiscal Office, the corrections budget experienced "14 percent growth in total funds."

HB 2828-B called for a minimum sentence of 20 years for intoxicated drivers who kill and were previously convicted of killing or seriously injuring while driving under the influence. In addition to Crime Victims United, this bill was supported by Mothers Against Drunk Driver and four law enforcement organizations.

Greenlick and Shields say that the Legislature refused to pass HB 2828-B because "longer mandatory sentences are expensive and just don't work." That is ridiculous. HB 2828 originally passed the House by a vote of 54-4, with two of the no votes being Greenlick and Shields. An amended version passed the Senate by a vote of 29-1.

Because the amended bill arrived back in the House on the last day of the legislative session, House rules had to be suspended to bring the bill to a vote. There were 33 Republican votes to suspend the rules. We needed seven Democrats. The Democratic House caucus would not release those seven votes. That is why the bill failed.

Greenlick and Shields voted against HB 2828-B using the rationale that mandatory sentences are expensive and don't work to prevent crime. It costs about $24,000 per year to incarcerate a criminal. According to the National Transportation and Safety Administration, each DUII homicide costs $3.6 million. It is not cost-effective to give an intoxicated driver who has killed twice a chance to kill a third time. This is without taking into account the human tragedy and loss.

And Oregon's recent history strongly suggests that mandatory sentencing is effective. From 1995, when Oregon instituted mandatory sentencing for violent crimes, through 2002, we had the largest decrease in violent crime rate of any state - 44 percent, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics data - saving Oregonians from tens of thousands of violent crimes.

Greenlick and Shields say Crime Victims United and its president are "bullies." They say, "Cross them and you pay the price." They are confusing bullying with aggressive advocacy. Crime Victims United stands up for the rights of crime victims and for the safety of law-abiding Oregonians and we make no apologies for it. The "price" for crossing us is that we will inform the electorate that politicians have crossed them.

Greenlick and Shields stated that they would like to sit down with the Pratts during the next legislative session to discuss "real solutions to drunken driving." The Pratts and I invite Greenlick and Shields to meet with us before the next session to discuss the facts and solutions.

Steve Doell of Lake Oswego is president of Crime Victims United of Oregon.

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