Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul DeMuniz has been handed a daunting task: Lead an effort to revamping the state's sentencing laws in the face of budget deficits and a rising prison population.
DeMuniz will join with other criminal justice officials from throughout the state to present some ideas on reform and to listen to suggestions during a public hearing from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today in Ashland at Southern Oregon University's Meese Auditorium.
Who: Oregon Commission on Public Safety
What: Public hearing on sentencing reform
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today
Where: Meese Auditorium, Southern Oregon University
DeMuniz, who plans to retire in January 2013, has been appointed by Gov. John Kitzhaber to head the Oregon Commission on Public Safety, with the expectation the commission will present lawmakers with a comprehensive plan to save money and reduce the crime rate by 2013.
The process, DeMuniz said, will be arduous and will rely on politicians on both sides of the aisle to come together for reform.
"We have to get away from the idea of soft on crime, tough on crime," DeMuniz said. "We have to get smart on crime."
DeMuniz has looked to other states for ideas in how to corral the spiraling costs of incarceration. In doing so, he has approached Texas state Rep. Jerry Madden, who heads that state's corrections committee, to share ideas on how to keep the public safe without building new prisons.
"We have to make the public understand that we can make communities safer with less cost," DeMuniz said.
Among the problems Oregon faces is a public safety budget hit hard by the recession and a rising prison population brought about by the Measure 11 sentencing guidelines that call for mandatory minimum sentences.
More than half of Oregon's 14,000 prisoners were sentenced on Measure 11 crimes, DeMuniz said.
"The increasing lengths of stay in the prisons had increased the need for new beds," he said.
Madden, a Republican who has become one of country's leaders in corrections reform, said he has worked to keep Texas from building expensive prisons by giving post-prison supervisors and alcohol and drug treatment programs more leeway — and more funding — to keep convicts from repeating past mistakes.
The goal, Madden said, is to ensure offenders do not violate conditions of their parole or probation, which sends them back into the justice system, often on minor charges.
"We have found that probation keeps a lot of people on probation," Madden said.
DeMuniz and Madden believe that money saved from building and maintaining prisons should be diverted to treatment programs, mental health care and drug courts, putting offenders into social service programs that could help them get sober or find a job — and keep them out of jail.
"When we put some of these things in place in Texas, we decreased the governor's public safety budget," Madden said.
The strategy going forward is to convince prosecutors and defense attorneys to drop the adversarial posture toward each other.
"They need to come together to solve a person's problem," he said.
The public safety commission's report is due by December. From there, DeMuniz hopes that the commission will be granted a continuance by the Legislature to collect more data.
DeMuniz said it would be 2013 at the earliest before the reforms could be adopted.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or email email@example.com.