On Monday, the state Commission on Public Safety will review new data on Oregon's prison system and begin working on legislation to present to lawmakers in 2013. The commission's goal is to find ways to reduce the amount of money the state spends on prisons while improving public safety and holding criminals accountable.
That may sound like wishful thinking, but it has been done in other places, and there is reason to believe it can be done in Oregon as well.
Specific proposals have not yet been drafted, but the data analyzed so far suggests some general directions. It ought to possible to reduce prison costs without jeopardizing public safety, and without wholesale changes in sentencing rules.
The Pew Center on the States is assisting the commission through a program of the U.S. Justice Department designed to encourage bipartisan study of criminal justice and a more efficient use of public dollars. Pew's findings shed some light on Oregon's system. Among those findings:
The commission's chairman, Supreme Court Justice Paul DeMuniz, says the commission intends to recommend changes that stop short of a complete overhaul of sentencing in the state. At the same time, he notes that Oregon is spending less on community corrections at the local level — efforts that have been shown to reduce recidivism and make communities safer.
What Oregonians should prepare for is not spending more money on the corrections system, but shifting some of that spending from building and operating prisons to local programs that keep offenders out of prison while preventing them from committing new crimes.
That doesn't mean taking it easy on dangerous criminals. It means using limited public resources in the most efficient way possible.