CVU President Responds to Op Ed on Corrections


On October 18, 2005, The Oregonian published and op ed by David Rogers, Associate Director of the Western Prison Project. Under the subtitle "Sending our taxes to prison doesn't work", Rogers argued for an about-face in Oregon criminal justice philosophy.

On November 7, 2005, The Oregonian ran this response from Crime Victims United President Steve Doell.

November 7, 2005

Steering the right course against crime

Oregonians are in the midst of a property crime epidemic that has overwhelmed our criminal justice system. We saw a similar rising tide of violent crime from 1960 through 1985, when Oregon's violent crime rate increased 7.9 times. During that period, we built one new prison with 400 beds. This tide of crime ebbed only after Oregonians became fed up and changed our state's criminal justice philosophy at the ballot box after tens of thousands of people had been victimized. From 1995 through 2002, we experienced a 44 percent decrease in the violent crime rate, the largest decrease in the country. 

This history and my personal experience lead me to take issue with the criminal justice philosophy expressed in The Oregonian by David Rogers of the Western Prison Project ("Sending our taxes to prison doesn't work," Oct. 18). But before discussing philosophy, some factual errors in Rogers' article must be addressed. 

He said the Department of Corrections' general fund budget has increased by more than 30 percent. His arithmetic is wrong, it was actually 28.7 percent. But more serious is that by citing only the general fund, he obscured the real picture. The Legislative Fiscal Office states that the Corrections budget experienced a "14 percent growth in total funds." 

Rogers said "the corrections budget is projected to skyrocket to $2.4 billion in the next eight years." This unattributed projection is highly suspect. Why would the Corrections budget increase by 118 percent when the prison population is projected to increase by 25 percent? 

He compares prison construction costs to K-12 education spending but omits the details. This biennium, taxpayers will spend $101 million for debt service on prisons while spending $9 billion in county, state and federal funds for K-12 education. 

You may get the impression that Oregon is throwing every criminal in prison. In fact, 72 percent of convicted felons receive "alternative sanctions" -- probation, not prison time. 

He noted that "crime nationwide has been down and is currently holding at 30-year lows." This is true in Oregon for violent crime, but not for property crime. Our property crime rate is 80 percent higher than 30 years ago and 33 percent above the national average. 

It is criminals who are responsible for increased spending on corrections. Rather than preach to law-abiding, taxpaying citizens on the cost of corrections, the Western Prison Project should be preaching to criminals and aspiring criminals and working to change a culture that tolerates, excuses and in some cases promotes criminality. 

Rogers said we've got a choice to make in Oregon. Well, Oregonians have already made that choice, overwhelmingly. They made it through the passage of 10 ballot measures, five of which were referred by the Legislature. 

We've already been where the Western Prison Project wants to take us. We went along with their policies for decades. Their vision of disincarceration and "community-based treatment" was catastrophic for Oregonians who became victims of soaring violent crime. We are still suffering from these policies in the area of property crime. 

For violent and repeat property criminals, the tried and true way of lowering the crime rate and preventing victimization is the prison system that provides incapacitation, deterrence and the opportunity for reformation. 

Steve Doell is president of Crime Victims United, which was founded in 1983. His 12-year-old daughter, Lisa, was murdered in 1992.

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