Senate Judiciary Committee Hears Testimony on Senate Bill 435


On April 12, 2005 the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Ginny Burdick, heard testimony on Senate Bill 435 which would extend earned time from 20 percent to 33 percent. Earned time is "time off for good behavior" available to 60 percent of inmates in Oregon state prisons.

Before the hearing an amendment was circulated that would remove the retroactivity of SB 435. This amendment was apparently submitted by supporters of the bill who recognized that, as originally written, SB 435 was in violation of Article I, Section 44 of the Oregon Constitution. This section, which the voters enacted by approving Measure 74 in 1999, says that, with few exceptions, the sentence pronounced in open court must be served. 

The testimony started with Representatives Gary Hansen and Chip Shields speaking in favor of the bill. Representative Hansen said that the DOC budget is underfunded by $60 million. 5,000 additional prison beds will be needed in the next decade. We must start to control costs now and SB 435 is a good start.

Representative Shields stressed the need to get the growing DOC budget under control to invest in community corrections, law enforcement, treatment, K-12, Head Start and housing for the elderly. He cited former DOC director Dr. Ben deHaan's study that purported to show that allowing more earned time will lower recidivism rates. He cited the State of Washington which raised earned time in some cases to 50% without disastrous results. He said that the Portland Citizens Crime Commission endorsed the concepts of shifting funds from corrections to prevention. He asked "If not this moderate non-Measure 11 bill, then what? What would the opponents of this bill propose instead?"

The next witnesses were Claudia Black, interim director of the Portland State Criminal Justice Policy Research Institute, who is filling the position recently vacated by Dr. Ben deHaan, and Craig Prins the director of the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission. Ms. Black discussed Dr. deHaan's study that purports to shows that more earned time will lower recidivism rates saying:

"The relationship between earned time and recidivism seems to be curvilinear, the more earned time, the less likely an inmate is to recidivate. We could only test this relationship to the maximum of 20 percent earned time; however, it is possible that recidivism rates could drop further with higher levels of earned time credit."

Next the witnesses supporting SB 435 had 15 minutes to present policy issues. This was done by Brigette Sarabi, the director of the Western Prison Project, and John Topagna from ECONorthwest, an economics consulting firm. Ms. Sarabi said that SB 435 "is the most moderate reform we can make and still have a significant fiscal impact." She asked "if not this legislation, then what strategies can we adopt to reduce the unsustainable growth of our prison system?". She added that presumably only those offenders committed to reforming would receive the full 33 percent earned time. She concluded:

"Many, many other critical needs are going unmet in Oregon. And yet the corrections budget continues to grow significantly. It's time we look at slowing this growth, so that we can continue to invest in the many other services Oregonians need and want. SB 435 is a modest and responsible way to begin to tackle this issue, and I urge your support."

Mr. Topagna said that Oregon is fifth in per capita spending on corrections and spends 26 percent more than would be expected compared to other states. He cited a 1998 RAND Corporation study listing a variety of early interventions that prevent crime.

Next opponents of SB 435 had 15 minutes to present policy issues. The panel consisted of Steve Doell and Howard Rodstein of Crime Victims United and the district attorneys of four counties, John Foote from Clackamas County, Robert Hermann from Washington County, Walt Beglau from Salem County and Doug Harcleroad from Lane County.

Steve Doell said that he believed that SB 435 was about philosophy, not money. He noted that during the mid-1990's, when Oregon was flush with money, the same people still lobbied for weaker sentences and opposed stronger sentences. He also reminded the committee that recent statistics showed that 72 percent of convicted felons receive no prison time whatsoever.

Howard Rodstein said that SB 435 would stretch truth-in-sentencing past the breaking point. He criticized the "smart on crime" slogan of Western Prison Project, saying that being tough on crime is smart on crime. He said that, from 1995 through 2002, Oregon had the largest decrease in violent crime rate of any state and yet during that same period our property crime was far above the national average and we allowed a methamphetamine epidemic to take root in Oregon.

He outlined how SB 435 would affect sentences for crimes such as burglary, Rape III, identity theft and methamphetamine manufacture. He then criticized Dr. deHaan's study regarding the relationship between earned time and recidivism as unscientific and without merit.

District Attorney John Foote spoke of his days working in the Department of Corrections and noted that, during that period, it was rare for offenders to receive the full 20 percent earned time and yet today testimony was given that 61 percent receive the full time off. He said that earned time had become a means for population management. District Attorney Robert Hermann criticized SB 435 on truth-in-sentencing grounds and noted that under current sentencing guidelines it is difficult to get to prison at all for drug or property crimes.

At this point, committee chair Senator Ginny Burdick called alternating panels of supporters and opponents of SB 435 to testify.

Among those testifying in favor of the bill were criminal justice reform advocate Arwen Bird, human services advocate Jessica Stevens, businesswoman Jo Smith, Cynthia Guyer from the Portland Schools foundation, Tom Fahey from the Oregon Community College Association, Paul Solomon - a treatment provider and former federal and state prisoner, William Robinson - a former cocaine dealer who benefited from earned time, and Robert Zimmer - a former law enforcement officer.

Among those testifying against the bill were Deputy Attorney General Pete Shepherd representing Attorney General Hardy Myers, John Bradley and Mark McDonnell representing Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schrunk, Janyce Iturra whose son Aaron was murdered by people whose sentences would be reduced by SB 435, Cynthia Boyd - a nurse whose was 34 weeks pregnant when her car was struck by a criminal speeding in a stolen car, sexual abuse victim and counselor Christa Loveland, and Verla Stice whose elderly mother was raped by an elder car provider.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Oregon Police Chiefs Association and the Oregon Sheriffs Association also presented written testimony in opposition to SB 435.

Several Crime Victims United members who had prepared testimony were not able to give it before Committee Chair Burdick adjourned the meeting. They included Charlotte Comito - a victim of repeated assaults, Janet Lovelace - the mother of 12-year old Katie Lovelace who was killed by a hit-and-run driver, Anne Pratt - the mother of Brian Hood who was killed by a drunk driver, and Elaine Premo - a criminal justice professor and former DOC supervisor and the aunt of murder victim Cassandra Brown. Another member, Marie Armstrong, whose son Chance was killed by a drunk driver, submitted written testimony.

Testimony in Support of Senate Bill 435

Testimony of Representative Chip Shields

Testimony of Brigette Sarabi

Testimony of William Robinson

Testimony in Opposition to Senate Bill 435

Testimony of Christa Loveland

Testimony of Janyce Iturra

Testimony of Attorney General Hardy Myers

Testimony of Mothers Against Drunk Driving

Testimony of Anne Pratt

Testimony of Marie Armstrong

Testimony of Howard Rodstein

Testimony of Representative Chip Shields

Madame Chair, I don't see why this bill should be controversial. We tried to make it very moderate.

In this bill, we put Measure 11 aside, and said, "How can we obtain some real cost savings out of non Measure 11 offenses, in ways that would protect public safety, and allow us to reinvest in community corrections, law enforcement, treatment, K-12, Head Start, housing for the elderly, etc.?"

This bill simply says, let's set Measure 11 aside, and let's increase the earned time from 20% to 33% for non Measure 11 offenders, offenders that proponents of Measure 11 have stated are not the worst offenders. Amendments clarify that this bill will be prospective.

The expanded earned time gives offenders incentive to take part in treatment, and it encourages them not to beat up on staff and other inmates. And for those who don't behave, and for those who don't participate in treatment, those who are therefore almost by definition, more likely to recidivate, we'll hold them until the last possible minute of their sentence.

Claudia Black will be summarizing the study of earned time conducted by Dr. Ben deHaan, who most of you know is the former Oregon Department of Corrections Director. And some opponents will be sure to criticize this study. I understand their need to do so, because if earned time acutally is associated with reduced recidivism and if it therefore increases public safety, they have very little in the way of legs to stand upon.

So what are other states doing on earned time? Well, in Washington state, last session, they had less of a prison funding crisis than we have today. And their legislature approved a maximum of 50% earned time, depending on the offense and other factors associated with risk to re-offend.

Why do we need to move this bill this session? I felt it was important to move this bill now, this session, because as I watched the output of the interim committee charged with reforming sentencing, I was disappointed that all of the ideas they came up with actually increased sentences and actually cost more money.

And the irony here today is that just about every government group in opposition is looking for more money. When you ask them how we come up with the money, they'll say "That's not our job."

And they're right. It's not their job. It's ours.

And we've got to do something about prison growth. Everyone, including DOC Director Max Williams, agrees we've got to do something.

I think this bill boils down to a few key questions:

1. Are we okay with spending $1.2 billion on prisons now, and $2.4 billion on prisons in 2013?

2. Should we prioritize our bed space for the worst, highest risk offenders?

3. If not this moderate non Measure 11 bill, then what? What would the opponents of this bill propose instead?

4. And if not this session, then when?

Madame Chair, I know we all believe we've got to find solutions to these questions. Let's start by passing SB 435.

Testimony of Brigette Sarabi

My name is Brigette Sarabi and I am here to testify in support of SB 435.

I am the Executive Director of Western Prison Project, a regional, non-profit organization that works for safe and sensible criminal justice policies that can save taxpayers dollars, reduce recidivism and keep the public safe. Our membership is made up of people who have been directly affected by crime and the criminal justice system -- survivors of crime, people convicted of crime, and the families of both. As a survivor of a serious and violent crime, I can tell you that we take the issue of safety very seriously. And as the mother of a formerly incarcerated woman who has successfully re-entered the community, I am here to urge your support of a very moderate reform that could save us millions of dollars and still protect public safety.

Senate Bill 435 would expand the possibility of "earned-time" sentence reductions from 20 to 33% for those new prisoners who would be eligible for earned-time under current statutes. These will be people who are convicted of the least serious charges people can be sent to prison for: things like minor assault, burglary, theft and drugs. I do not mean to imply that these are not serious offenses - they are. But let's be clear, this bill expands earned time only for those new people coming into the system whose crimes are under the threshold of Measure 11. It is the most moderate reform we can make and still have a significant fiscal impact.

The primary objective of SB 435 is to save tax dollars in a responsible way by making it possible to increase early release for lower-level offenders who have shown a commitment to rehabilitation. The question the committee has to ask is "if not this legislation, then what strategies can we adopt to reduce the unsustainable growth of our prison system?"

I'd like to point out that earned-time is not automatic. It is up to the Department of Corrections to award earned-time based on an individual's behavior while incarcerated. We can assume that only those individuals who show a real commitment to rehabilitation would be awarded the full 33% earned-time this bill would authorize. According to figures from the Criminal Justice Policy Research Institute, a quarter of Oregon prisoners eligible for up to 20% earned-time are receiving 15% or less. Clearly the DOC has the authority and the will to deny earned-time to prisoners who are not making a sincere effort at rehabilitation.

SB 435 is a very moderate proposal that would save millions of dollars. As such, it is in keeping with reforms pursued by several other states that have pursued "smart on crime" policies that protect public safety and free-up resources for other urgent needs. For example, in 2003 the Washington legislature increased early release eligibility for non-violent offenders, increasing time credits off their sentence to fifty percent. This legislation was estimated to reduce the Washington prison population by 550 prisoners and save $40 million over two years.

Many states have taken a hard look at the competing needs for tax dollars and made some responsible decisions to control corrections costs. Oregon has the chance to do the same. Given the proposed 34% increase in general fund dollars for the DOC budget, an increase that this state can ill afford, SB 435 offers a responsible cost-savings. By increasing earned time for those new prisoners who would be eligible for earned-time, we can save 415 prison beds and $16 million in the next four years, according to figures provided by the Department of Corrections. If the legislature were willing to amend SB 435 to make it retroactive to include currently incarcerated people convicted of similar crimes, people who are already eligible for 20 percent earned-time, the savings would be vastly greater.

There are those who would argue against expanding earned-time. Some may believe that it sets us on a path that could jeopardize public safety. Many of these folks work within the system, and I understand that it is their role to advocate for funding for their area of responsibility - just as it is the role of school administrators to advocate for education funding. The truth is, we cannot fund everything at the desired level, and must look at responsible ways to economize. So I urge you to take a look at this bill with both an open mind and a sense of the fiscal constraints this state is facing. Many, many other critical needs are going unmet in Oregon. And yet the corrections budget continues to grow significantly. It's time we look at slowing this growth, so that we can continue to invest in the many other services Oregonians need and want. SB 435 is a modest and responsible way to begin to tackle this issue, and I urge your support.

You will find attached to my testimony two handouts. One addresses how we can responsibly reduce the prison population in this state and manage the existing population so that we don't have to take on hundreds of millions of dollars in debt and start-up costs for a new prison. The second is a report by nationally recognized researcher Judy Greene on Crime Trends & Incarceration Rates in Oregon. Thank you very much for this opportunity to share my thoughts on this important bill.

Testimony of William Robinson

Madame Chair, members of the Committee, for the record my name is William Robinson.

I'm here today to testify in support of Senate Bill 435 and to tell you that earned time gave me the incentive to change my life. And. I believe it's done the same for others. I believe that expanding earned time will help to focus on targeting our resources to locking up the worst criminals. I believe that's precisely why we must pass Senate Bill 435; so that we can focus on the dangerous offenders.

One of the great things about earned time is that those who don't earn it have to serve every single day of their sentence. Those who don't go through treatment, those who don't get an education, those who assault corrections officers, have to serve every day of their sentence.

I was a cocaine dealer on the streets of NE Portland. When I was sent to prison it made me reflect on where my life was heading. I wanted to get out of prison and I was willing to do whatever it took. I started dabbling in treatment, only partly seriously. But, in time I came to see treatment as a way to make the changes I need to make in my life. And, to make a long story short, recovery just happened for me.

I'm here today to say that earned time worked for me. It created an incentive for me to make a change in my like and I believe it works for others. Expanding earned time to 33% will increase its effectiveness.

I urge you to vote yes on Senate Bill 435.

Thank you.

Testimony of Christa Loveland

Director of the Women's Information Networking Service (WINS) Program

I am a survivor of intimate partner violence and rape. I am also a single parent and have faced many hardships because of the violence that was perpetrated against me. Trying to support a family, healing from the trauma of the violence and having to be both mom and data to my children are at the top of my list. Although these are big hardships, I cannot put into words how devastating it was the day I was told that the perpetrator of that crime was getting out of prison. Even though it had been two years since the crime had occurred, at that moment it felt as if it was only yesterday. I am a survivor: I have lived with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.). The news that he was getting out triggered this condition and made it very hard to function with an already stressful life.

I has been some time since I was the victim of this crime and I am stronger now. I have dedicated my life to helping survivors make better lives for themselves and their children. Being the director of a non-profit agency that is dedicated to healing and strengthening survivors has been very rewarding. I also have the opportunity to observe first hand what the effects of releasing perpetrators sooner than necessary can do to the victim and how painful the healing process can be for a child rape victim. Often women and children are just putting back the pieces of their shattered lives, struggling to make a life for themselves when suddenly they are swept into fear and confusion when they hear of their perpetrator's release.

I would like you to consider this bill from three perspectives: the perpetrator, the victim and the effected children of families suffering from domestic violence.

#1 Perpetrators must pay for their violent crimes. If we are to continue order in our society, we cannot put a price on this issue. Shortening the time on a sentence makes sentencing invalid and self-defeating. We have seen a reduction on repeat offending with current sentencing. Why change something that has been an effective deterrent.

#2 I work with women everyday who wish for a little more time -- just a little more time to heal, to sleep through the night or not to have to look over their shoulder every minute of the day -- to live without the constant fear of being attacked or of someone lying in wait for them from around the next corner.

When a victim of a violent crime has to continually relocate and uproot her family in order to feel secure, the cost is immeasurable. Related costs include but are not limited to loss of wages, counseling, medical services, and foster care for children who cannot be in the care of their biological parent due to the triggering of PTSD and other anxiety related problems. It is not possible to calculate the cost to the state and to society.

#3 Children are our future and we only have one chance to parent them and raise them to be contributing members of society. If they lose both parents, we have little hope of doing this. When a mother is continually in fear or suffering PTSD, her capacity for nurturing is reduced and the children suffer in ways that may never heal.

In summary, we need to support victims of violent offenses. We need to stand by them and give a just punishment to suit these horrible crimes. We send the wrong message if we give any compromise on the length of the sentence to be served on these crimes. Victims deserve time to heal and to have a chance a rebuilding their lives. Perpetrators deserve to do the time for the crime they committed. Stand with me in protecting victims, valuing human dignity and saving immeasurable amounts of state dollars. Do not compromise on sentences for violent offences. Do not be fooled into thinking that reduction in sentences will save money. It will not. The hidden costs I have described cannot be measured.

Thank you for the opportunity to express my point of view.

Testimony of Janyce Iturra

I'm a member of Crime Victims United and Parents of Murdered Children. Aaron Iturra was murdered in October, 1994.

Two boys who did the murder were sentenced to 10 years for the accomplice and 16 years for the shooter. The shooter will be out of prison immediately if SB 435 were to pass.

Mary Louise Thompson, the mastermind behind Aaron's murder, was charged with Aggravated Murder with other consecutive charges, and was sentenced to life without any chance of parole on July 23, 1996.

On January 28, 2002, Mary Thompson won her appeal and was resentenced to 25 years with a possibility of parole. With her 20 percent earned time she will be released in 20 years with a chance of parole.

By passing SB 435 to increase time credit earned to 33 percent brings Mary Thompson's sentence to 16.5 years with a possibility of parole.

My family and I have already been victimized once by the Judicial System just because Aaron's murder happened before Measure 11. All parties involved in his murder were sentenced under the sentencing guidelines. To think that there is a chance increasing time credit earned to 33% from 20% is hard for us to handle both mentally and emotionally. So, I'm asking you to vote NO for SB 435.

Thank you for allowing me to speak.

Testimony of Attorney General Hardy Myers

Madame Chair and members of the Committee:

I apologize for being unable to present my testimony in person today; I am attending a statewide conference in Eugene on campus sexual assault sponsored by my Sexual Assault Task Force. Thank you for allowing Deputy Attorney General Peter Shepherd to present my statement.

I was appointed chair of the Oregon Criminal Justice Council, a forerunner of the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, in 1987. During the next two years, pursuant to a statutory mandate of the 1987 regular legislative session, the Council developed as administrative rules Oregon's felony sentencing guidelines. The 1989 regular legislative session approved the guidelines to become effective November 1, 1989. The guidelines have remained in effect, with limited changes, since then. At this time about 97% of all felony offenders are sentenced under the guidelines; most of the rest are sentenced under Ballot Measure 11. And at this time about 60% of adult offenders imprisoned in Oregon were sentenced under the guidelines.

Development of the guidelines was driven by widespread dissatisfaction with the prior system of so-called "indeterminate sentencing" under which judges were left with uncontrolled discretion as to whether a given offender was to be sentenced to imprisonment and, if so, for what period. When sentences of imprisonment were imposed, the sentence set the maximum period the offender could be incarcerated; the actual length of imprisonment was determined by the Parole Board. Before 1977 Parole Board release decisions were largely uncontrolled by law. Beginning in 1997 the Legislature required the Board to determine lengths of actual imprisonment in accord with a parole matrix that combined consideration of offense seriousness and offender criminal history - a forerunner of the guidelines grid created twelve years later to control the initial sentencing decision. Both before and after onset of the parole matrix, however, the lengths of imprisonment were usually far shorter than the maximum period of imprisonment pronounce by the judge's indeterminate sentence.

Over time the foregoing system displayed at least three weaknesses that drove public dissatisfaction: (1) lengths of actual imprisonment for serious offenses the public thought were too short, and (2) that were also far shorter than the public thought would be served based on the "indeterminate" sentence announced in court; and (3) disparity in sentencing given the lack of control over the key judicial choice between a sentence of imprisonment or a sentence of probation. The earlier system, because of that lack of control over sentencing choice, also provided the Legislature an uncertain basis for projecting future needs for prison space.

Given those weaknesses, the sentencing guidelines in turn were intended to (1) reduce sentencing disparity; (2) increase imprisonment for the most serious person crimes; (3) provide the Legislature with more certainty in relating the effects of specific sentencing policies to corrections resources, and (4) achieve greater "truth in sentencing" by greatly narrowing the difference between the length of a sentence of imprisonment and the length of imprisonment actually served.

To attain this "truth in sentencing" goal, the Council, after extensive discussions, recommended the Legislature authorize a reduction of up to 20% in the time of imprisonment actually served under a given sentence of imprisonment, with the reduction to be based on appropriate institutional behavior, as defined by Department of Corrections rules, and for participation in the functional literacy program described in ORS 421.094. The Council concluded that a potential imprisonment reduction of that amount would still leave the length of sentence imposed and of time actually served reasonably close---and certainly far closer than had been the experience under the "indeterminate" sentencing system---and that some potential for reduction in the length of the actual imprisonment based on good inmate choices of conduct was justified as a means of expressing approval and encouragement of such choices. The Legislature adopted the Council's recommendation, and the resulting policy was codified as the statute SB 435 would amend.

Madame Chair and members, the "truth in sentencing" objective of the guidelines was of great importance in 1987, and I believe it should be of no less importance today. That objective seeks to assure the public, and leave no doubt among criminal offenders, that a given response of our criminal justice system to given criminal conduct is real.

SB 435, by increasing the potential reduction in the length of actual imprisonment under a given sentence from 20% to 33%, would represent a major weakening of our "truth in sentencing" commitment that is part of the guidelines' policy foundation. I respectfully urge you to defend that standard and to reject the change proposed by SB 435.

A further effect of the proposed change, and a second reason for its rejection, is the very significant reduction it could produce in the lengths of imprisonment for guidelines offenses that result in imprisonment. Although convictions of almost all the most serious person crimes are now sentenced under Measure 11, guidelines convictions that result in imprisonment also involve very serious crimes. Examples include negligent homicide, aggravated theft and adult using minor in commission of controlled substance offense.

Again, thank you for allowing me to present my testimony through the Deputy Attorney General.

Testimony of Mothers Against Drunk Driving

MADD Oregon takes a firm stand against passage of SB 435. Many drivers convicted of DUII offenses are charged with felonies.

It is the position of MADD that driving under the influence is a homicide in progress, and any decrease in the penalties resulting from the act of driving under the influence would not make good public policy.

The Oregon Legislature has spent many hours in past years increasing penalties for DUII. Driving under the influence is a very serious problem that has brought untold cases of heart ache and misery to the victims of DUII drivers. Why, after years of strengthening the penalties for this preventable behavior, would the Legislature want to suddenly start rewarding those convicted of DUII with lower penalties? 

It is the opinion of MADD Oregon that SB 435 is simply not in the best interests of the citizens of Oregon.

Lloyd N. Clodfelter
Oregon MADD Public Policy Liaison

Testimony of Anne Pratt

I am very distressed and astounded that a bill such as Senate Bill 435 is even being considered. Just about the time we finally begin to make progress in reducing the crime rate we have this bill that cuts the heart out of a system that's working. Senate Bill 435 is the reverse of the tougher sentencing laws and will cause a cascade of financial, emotional and social costs to the state and all its citizens. 

I am concerned with the entire picture of SB 435, the bottom line being increasing the "earned time" of presumptive sentences from 20% to 33%. I am concerned with all the affected crimes, but am focused personally on those that affect DUII Homicide and DUII injuries and other DUII related crimes.

Last session we passed SB 421 "Brian's Bill", unanimously in both houses, $500-1000 fine for refusal for the Breathalyzer, helped with a 3 strikes DUII revocation bill and greatly strengthened diversions. These great strides have actually taken many years, cost many lives, dollars and the blood sweat & tears of hundreds or thousands who have worked tirelessly to make Oregon a safer place. I find it totally incomprehensible that you would want to reverse all this life saving work that that has been accomplished.

I can only think possibly you don't understand the reality of these violent crimes. DUII deaths & serious injury does not vanish when you set the morning newspaper down. Death (Criminally Negligent Homicides) cannot be carried out with the morning trash and seriously injured DUII victims (Assault III's) do not heal by wishing it so. NO ONE is exempt from these crimes or related crimes, such as Hit & Run & Reckless Endangerment.

DUII Homicides are the most violent crashes. Our son was not intoxicated but got in with someone he thought he knew and trusted him to drive him home. In the six blocks they had to get home, the intoxicated driver drove off the roadway and flipped the vehicle, an older blazer with the top removed. Brian died a very violent death.........let me describe it for you. It was not a party on wheels........ Brian was thrown to the pavement and then struck in the chest with the right rear wheel of the vehicle.

Brian was a very healthy robust athletic 23 yr. old man; even though his chest was crushed from a 4000lb vehicle, he turned over on his own. According to the neighbor who stayed by his side, his breathing became labored and he began to fight for his life, physically, mentally & emotionally; he spoke; he knew he was going to die. When paramedics arrived, they could not successfully insert the breathing tube; his breathing became more labored; his jaws locked and his brain began shutting down. He had multiple injuries, including a ruptured aorta. Brian fought like hell for his life, but died on the pavement. He arrived DOA at the hospital.... that's the phone call we received at 2:00 a.m. on Sept. 18th, was my 50th birthday.

It is unbelievable that you would want these offenders who commit these violent crimes to complete only 66% of their sentences. The sentence needs to be long enough to make a difference; this cut removes that part of the equation for both offender and victim. 33% would cut "Brian's Bill" .......... Criminally Negligent Homicide, a sentence of 36 months down to 24 months. The man who killed our son did serve just 66% of his sentence of 30 months, and we found there were other opportunities for a shorter sentence besides "earned time". By increasing "earned time" to 33% it could amount to even more than 33% off for some. On top of that, we had to "baby-sit" the conviction every step of the way; there seemed to be many opportunities to escape punishment, just to get 66% of his sentence served. 66% was not long enough to make a difference ..... he continued to thumb his nose at the law.

These crimes most often strike when you least expect them, indiscriminately, without warning, often by an individual you don't even know and tragically sometimes kills or maims multiple victims. There is no motive.........that's what makes them the most dangerous deadly threat to all Oregonians. This could happen to you or a member of your family at any time when traveling the highways. Would you want that person to receive only 66% of a sentence that has been handed down by a judge?

Death and injuries are expensive. In the first two years, our family personally accumulated a $100,000 debt, outside of what the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration estimates each DUII Homicide costs society, which is $3.6 million. There was no insurance; no wrongful death suit.

Crime is expensive. Emotionally we have been stripped of our hopes, dreams and life. Also to measure is the giant ripple effect of grief. Our family once strong, independent and vigorous was ripped apart; some members themselves leaned on the system. Life doesn't just "go on" after these have to learn to live with a hole in your heart. Part of the ability to heal for the victims is knowing the offender will be held accountable by the state they support and live in. Respect for human life, personal Responsibility and offender Accountability are necessary for our state to survive.

I find it extremely upsetting to be fighting this battle during National Crime Victims Week, but I remain determine to see that no other families walk in our shoes. No one should have to endure this type of senseless, preventable and wasteful death or injury of a family member and then be slapped in the face by the Criminal Justice System.

Please vote "NO" on Senate Bill 435.

Thank you for this opportunity.

Testimony of Marie Armstrong

I firmly stand in opposition of Senate Bill 435 which increases earn time to 33%. I believe that 20% is still too lenient, but because of money issues in the State of Oregon we will let the criminals get off with just a slap on the wrist. This is a public safety issue not to be confused with the idea of saving money. 

On March 8th, 1996 my twenty year old son was killed by a drinking driver, his girlfriend Sara suffered a server brain stem injury. Chance and Sara were driving to Cottage Grove Lake when two cars and one truck (that had the keg of beer in the back) were coming from Cottage Grove Lake. The three vehicles were playing chicken on a two lane highway. The truck hit Sara's car on the passenger side where my son was sitting. The impact broke both his legs, his arm and broke many of his ribs that lacerated the bottom part of his heart and this is how my baby died alone in a car. The impact turned the car a 180 degrees and the second car hit them from behind. The three vehicles were traveling at speeds of 85 to 90 miles an hour. I will never know why there was no blood testing done, as it was stated in the police report the driver smelled of alcohol and the picture of the scene showed beer cans by the truck. The driver's in the other two vehicles were treated at Cottage Grove Hospital. One of the drivers left the scene and received a slap on the wrist and absolutely no penalties. The driver that killed my son and severely injured Sara only received a short sentence for both.

It's time you put yourself in my shoes. How would you feel sitting in a courtroom hearing the Judge giving the sentence to the person that killed your child, then knowing that the people you voted in office voted to reduce this sentence by 33%. What would be going through your mind? This Committee is telling me that my son's life has a dollar sign on it. Tell me how much do you think my son's life is worth? How can you, in your right mind put any amount of money on human life? What about your families, do they have dollar signs on their lives?

We are not here to cry about our lives, this is not easy for us. We do not get paid for coming in front of you begging to save lives. This should be your job to make sure that the public can live in a safe environment. We should be able to know that our laws will protect the innocent and punish the criminals and not let them out because you want to save money! 

I stand adamantly opposed to SB 435.

Testimony of Howard Rodstein


Madam Chair and members of the committee, I'm Howard Rodstein, policy analyst for Crime Victims United.

We are here today to adamantly oppose Senate Bill 435. It would damage the credibility of Oregon's criminal justice system. It would stretch truth-in-sentencing past the breaking point. It is supported by a people making the outlandish claim that they can increase public safety by releasing criminals earlier.

They call this "smart on crime" but it harkens back to disastrous policies of past decades that brought us devastating victimization. History shows that being tough on crime is smart and being soft is foolish. From 1995 through 2002 Oregon was number one among states in decrease of violent crime. Yet during that same period, our property crime rate stayed far above the national average and we permitted a methamphetamine epidemic to take root and flourish in our state.

Deflecting responsibility from criminals and backing off a tough stance will not reduce crime now any more than it has in the past. And in the long run it will not save money. It is not smart.


In the 1990's the United States Congress passed truth-in-sentencing legislation that called for a maximum of 15 percent earned time. In Oregon, we currently allow 20 percent. Increasing earned time to 33 percent is not truth-in-sentencing.

That's not to mention 90 days of transitional leave and alternative incarceration programs which, on average, reduce sentences by over a year for those eligible.

These sentences are not long to begin with. 18 months for criminally negligent homicide becomes 12 months after 33 percent earned time. That becomes 9 months after 90-day transitional leave. 9 months for criminally negligent homicide is a slap in the face to the surviving family of the victim.

Similar arithmetic would apply in cases of battered women, abused children, home invasion burglary, Rape in the Third Degree, identity theft, and manufacturing and dealing methamphetamine.

Credibility is hard to earn and easy to lose. This bill would squander the credibility that we have worked hard to establish in the last decade.

Earned Time and Recidivism

There's been a lot of talk that "research shows that increasing earned time causes lower recidivism". This is not the case.

We have dealt with this myth for years. It started with a DOC study under former Director Dr. Ben de Haan. I had a long meeting with him on this subject (June 21, 2002). During that meeting Dr. de Haan acknowledged that the study did not provide evidence that increasing earned time causes lower recidivism, but merely that there was an "association".

There is a vast difference between an association and a cause-and-effect relationship. Much of science is devoted to making this distinction but it is completely lacking from the study on recidivism. Our written testimony explains this in detail.

One conclusion of the study is:

"The relationship between earned time and recidivism seems to be linear, but we only tested it until 20 %. We have no reason to believe that it would not continue."

According to this theory, increasing earned time to 100 percent for all offenders would cut recidivism to zero. This is absurd on the face of it and illustrates how fundamentally unscientific this study is.

We should not base public safety policy on pseudo-science. The argument that increasing earned time will increase public safety is without merit.

Reality Check on the Corrections Budget

The figure of a 33 percent increase for the general fund contribution to the corrections' budget has been widely reported. This is factually accurate but very misleading. As the Legislative Fiscal Office budget analysis points out on page 127, almost half of this increase is due to creative financing employed by the previous legislature. Our written testimony explains this in detail.

According to DOC, less than one-third of the total increase is due to prison population growth.


In the last decade violent crime in Oregon has plummeted and is now well below the national average. But we still have a property crime wave on our hands - our state has the sixth highest property crime rate in the country. And we have a methamphetamine epidemic. 

Imagine having to personally go to a law-abiding citizen who has had their identity stolen and credit destroyed, or to the family of a 14-year old child raped by a 30-year old man, or to the family of a victim who was just killed by a drunk driver and telling them that the criminal will serve only two-thirds or less of the sentence. This is the kind of thing that breeds cynicism among people about the criminal justice system.

Now advocates for criminals are complaining because we are finally paying for past neglect of public safety. Over time people forget the lessons of the past and recycle failed policies. We've been there and once was enough. Crime Victims United adamantly opposes Senate Bill 435.

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