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October 1, 2008 -- Willamette Week (OR)

Jail Junkies

Who Knows More About Stopping Property Crime: Kevin Mannix or an Ex-Addict Who Stole 1,000 Cars?

By Nigel Jaquiss

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Kevin Mannix, meet John Goodman.

Twelve years ago, Mannix was a Democrat and a candidate for Oregon attorney general.

Twelve years ago, Goodman was a hardcore drug addict who financed his habit with other people's property.

"I broke into way more than 500 houses," Goodman claims. "And I stole maybe 1,000 cars."

Both, you could say, are adaptable creatures.

The Queens, N.Y.-born Mannix switched parties in 1997 and became a Republican. The former legislator ran unsuccessfully for higher office several times, built a law practice and is once again in the headlines thanks to Measure 61--his tough-on-crime initiative that is among the most costly measures on the crowded November ballot.

Measure 61 would mandate minimum sentences of 14 to 36 months for a batch of property and drug--i.e., nonviolent--crimes, including those committed by first offenders.

The measure would require more than $1 billion to build new prisons, according to state estimates, and another $200 million annually to operate them. And the measure would lead to the imprisonment of about 5,000 more Oregonians--boosting the prison population by more than one-third.

Like Mannix, Goodman also reinvented himself.

"I'm a pretty creative person and was able to succeed in various different criminal activities," says Goodman, a fireplug-sized ex-con with a Yosemite Sam mustache.

Hooked on heroin as a teenager in the 1970s, Goodman switched to meth after going cold turkey in solitary confinement.

The 55-year-old Southeast Portland resident also switched from stealing to a more lucrative trade--cooking. Mixing ephedrine, phosphorus and sodium in no-tell motel rooms and schlocky rentals, he made money quicker than any celebrity chef.

"You could turn $1,000 of chemicals into $100,000," he says.

When a couple more prison stretches ended Goodman's meth-dealing, he switched to identity theft.

Back on the street, he bought magnetic ink and a CD full of Oregonians' DMV data ($50 from the Nickel Ads). After Dumpster-diving for customer information at local banks, he began manufacturing--and cashing--checks.

Today, Goodman is clean, thanks to a program run by Central City Concern.

Both he and Mannix seem close to achieving what they have long struggled for--Goodman a victory over the demons that trapped him in Portland's underworld for more than 30 years, and Mannix vindication after five consecutive high-profile electoral losses.

Crime and punishment have defined both men, but, not surprisingly, they disagree about the value of building more prisons.

"The essential problem is that our society is not giving justice to victims of crime," Mannix says. "It's time to stop this 'catch-and-release' approach."

Goodman's experience gives him a different view.

"More prisons will do nothing to help anybody. Prison allows you to heal up, get some rest, eat good and figure out how to do better crimes," says Goodman, who is nearly finished earning his certification as a drug and alcohol counselor.

It's safe to say no Oregonian has had a greater influence on the state's criminal justice system than Mannix. Measure 11, the 1994 initiative he wrote that created mandatory minimum sentences for violent and sex crimes, is now responsible for two of every five inmates in Oregon prisons. He single-handedly changed the rules of the game, a victory that took thousands of dangerous criminals off the streets and radically shifted state spending toward corrections.

A genial 58-year-old raconteur with a pitch-perfect skill for anecdote and a keen sense of populist outrage, Mannix knows locking up bad guys holds an emotional appeal even among liberal voters. He's a master at making the complex realities of crime and punishment seem simple.

What is less clear is whether Oregon can afford his vision for drug and property crimes--or whether that vision is actually effective.

John Goodman and Kevin Mannix do agree on one thing: Drug and property crimes are extremely costly.

"I used to think I was providing a service when I sold meth," Goodman says. "Now I realize I was a pebble, and every crime I did caused ripples.

"Say I steal a guy's car," he explains. "Now, maybe he can't get to work. Then he has to go to court and spend a lot of time and effort getting his car back."

Now consider the economic impact of Colandus "Slim" Moore. For 38 years, Moore lived for one thing--to shoot heroin into his arm, his neck, or wherever else he could find a vein.

A gravelly voiced Mississippi native who moved to Portland in 1983, Moore spent most of the past 25 years--when not in jail or prison--working the corners of Old Town and the bus mall.

"They should put a statue of him up on 3rd and [West] Burnside," says Randy Sorvisto, a founder of Central City Concern's Recovery Mentor Program. "He was one of those guys you'd always see hustling in Old Town and never expected to see clean."

On a busy day, Moore says, he might shoot up 15 or 20 times. Before he finally kicked his habit in 2005, Moore says he commonly spent $100 to $250 a day on heroin.

(A study by Portland State University researchers of 97 hardcore addicts in the Central City Concern programs found they spent an average of $206 per day--or more than $70,000 a year--just on drugs.)

That's a lot of money, especially if you have no job.

Now clean and a working carpenter's apprentice, Moore says he rarely came by a dollar honestly when he was addicted.

"I've got a sorry-assed work history," he says.

Moore adds that people underestimate junkies' economic savvy.

"If you are a dummy," he says, "you won't make enough to feed your addiction."

And feeding that addiction is all that matters.

"Every day, all that runs through your mind is, 'Where am I going to lay my head tonight, and how am I going to clean up enough to go into the store and steal something?'" Moore says.

As an example, for years, Moore exploited Nordstrom's longtime "no questions asked" return policy.

In one scam, he and an accomplice would go to the downtown department store. One would rub toothpaste around his gums and, when inside the store, sip some water. When the toothpaste foamed up, he would fake a convulsion. As onlookers rushed to help, the accomplice would grab items, often women's purses, and head for the door.

"We'd get somebody, usually a white woman, to return them," he says. "That's enough for one day."

Moore says junkies have tricks of the trade, like any profession. (First rule: Never carry bindles of heroin in your pocket where a cop can find them. Carry them in your mouth so you can swallow the packets or put them in a crushed coffee cup near where you are selling.)

When dealing, Moore often duped his customers. He'd make "marijuana" by wetting Yellow Pages and rolling them under his foot on a rough sidewalk. "Looked just like a bud," he says.

To "manufacture" heroin, he'd moisten instant coffee, package it in plastic and then drop the package into a cup of vinegar to mimic the drug's sour smell.

Goodman and Moore are off the street now. But plenty of others are still out there. The Oregon Department of Human Services says 88,000 Oregonians suffer from "drug abuse or dependence." (Nearly twice as many are addicted to alcohol.)

Earlier this year, the Portland consulting firm ECONorthwest estimated alcohol and drug abuse costs Oregonians about $5.9 billion annually. About $2 billion of that is attributable to "illness, institutionalization and incarceration," and another $1.2 billion is attributable to "crime and the victims of crime."

That addiction tax is about as much as the annual general fund budgets of the City of Portland, Multnomah County and Portland Public Schools--combined.

Kevin Mannix doesn't know Goodman or Moore. But they were exactly the kind of habitual, nonviolent offenders he wants off the streets.

"The Legislature was not doing anything about this issue," he says. "So I had to."

With the financial help of Nevada medical-device millionaire Loren Parks, Mannix easily gathered 149,000 signatures to place Measure 61 on the ballot.

He's right about "catch-and-release" justice. In 2007, for instance, according to Oregon Criminal Justice Commission statistics, only 7 percent of those convicted of felony drug offenses went to prison. Eleven percent went to county jail and 82 percent got probation. For property crimes, 35 percent of those convicted of felonies went to prison or jail.

Historically, property-crime rates in Oregon have been among the nation's highest. Even today, a property crime occurs in Oregon every four minutes.

Mannix's solution? Measure 61 would remove judges' discretion, stiffen prison sentences and make them mandatory.

And it would bring dramatic changes for people like Moore. Over the past couple of decades, for example, Moore got arrested dozens of times for dealing drugs. Usually, he just got a slap on the wrist. Under Mannix's measure, he'd get a mandatory sentence of 30 or 36 months, depending on the drug.

Initial polling found that voters overwhelmingly supported Measure 61.

"The Mannix mandatory minimum initiative will pass," pollster Lisa Grove wrote in a January 2008 email to legislative leaders. "Messages to defeat it do not work."

That news panicked legislators, Oregon district attorneys and others worried about the measure's cost. Rather than try to defeat Mannix, opponents proposed a cheaper, more palatable alternative.

In February, lawmakers referred Measure 57 to the November ballot. In addition to tougher sentences for drug and property crimes, it also includes minimum sentences for a variety of nonviolent crimes, including elder abuse and white-collar crimes.

Unlike Mannix's measure, which punishes first offenders, Measure 57 is targeted at repeat offenders. Officials estimate, however, that Measure 57 would mean the incarceration of 3,000 fewer prisoners than Mannix's measure. And because it would require far less construction, Measure 57 would cost a quarter as much as Measure 61.

And, unlike Mannix's proposal, the legislatively referred option would mandate treatment for drug-addicted felons.

Voters face an unusual and confusing situation in November. If both measures pass--which polls suggest is likely--then the one with the most votes becomes law.

Thus, even if the legislative referral tops Mannix's measure, he will still have accomplished his goal of imprisoning vastly more felons.

"Either way, we make progress," Mannix says. "I win some if [Measure] 57 passes, and the people win more if 61 passes."

One cannot deny the pain and expense that result from dope fiends invading Oregonians' homes, swiping their cars and stealing their identities. Mannix is a master at tapping the anger inspired by such crimes.

But responsible public policy should also address a few basic questions about Measure 61:

Is 2008 the Right Time to Embark on a Prison-Building Campaign?

Normally, dramatic policy results from high-profile trends--such as Oregon's 2006 crackdown on payday loans, or the proposed $700 billion Wall Street bailout.

But by a couple of measures, Mannix's timing is poor. The use of meth--which is tied to property crime--is declining significantly, according to figures compiled by the state Department of Human Services.

And Oregon's property-crime rate, although still above the national average, is also dropping sharply. Over the past two years, FBI figures show, our property-crime rate has dropped far faster than in other states--we've gone from fourth in the nation in 2005 to 18th in each of the past two years (see chart, above).

"Oregon's crime rate began decreasing in the 1990s," wrote Kenneth Kreuscher, co-chairman of the National Lawyers Guild, Portland chapter. "Mandatory minimum sentences have no measurable effect on reducing crime."

Can Oregon Afford Mannix's Measure?

Oregon already spends a greater percentage of its budget on corrections than any other state, according to a recent Pew Research Center study (although some Oregon officials argue with Pew's methodology).

And the 2009 Legislature already faces a deficit of more than $500 million, state economists say. That deficit will probably grow before lawmakers convene in January.

Mannix's measure includes no funding. As a result, the billion-plus dollars Measure 61 would cost would come on top of the looming deficit and at the expense of other state programs.

"If 61 passes, it will blow a hole in the state's budget and have a huge impact on other services," says John Kroger, who is both the Democratic and Republican nominee for attorney general.

Victims'-rights advocates might object to trying to place a dollar value on the benefit of preventing a Measure 61 crime.

But in many states, including Washington, New York and even Texas, corrections officials and lawmakers have come to rely on cost-benefit analyses as they explore cheaper alternatives to incarceration.

Officials in those states--and now Oregon--have found that, like any other investment, prisons are subject to fundamental economic principles.

In 2006, the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission began to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of incarceration.

Researchers found that when Oregon embarked on a prison-building boom in the early '90s, each crook imprisoned corresponded to a reduction of more than 30 crimes.

As the state has locked up the most prolific offenders, however, the incremental benefit has shrunk. For the past few years, the number of crimes prevented by each additional prisoner incarcerated has hovered at about 10. Oregon Criminal Justice Commission economist Michael Wilson says the smaller benefit reflects the law of diminishing returns.

Mannix argues--correctly--that incarceration provides unquantifiable benefits, such as victims' emotional well-being and a sense of fulfilled desire for justice.

But economists here and in Washington state have calculated that in terms of return on investment, it makes little sense to build additional prisons for drug and property criminals.

Each dollar spent locking up violent criminals saves about $4.35. But Washington economists found that each dollar spent locking up property criminals returns far less: about $1.10.

And money spent locking up drug criminals produces hefty losses: Each dollar spent returns only about 35 cents in value.

"That doesn't necessarily mean we should stop locking people up," Wilson says. "But it gives us a much better idea about the costs and benefits of doing so."

Will Mannix's Measure Be Effective?

Putting drug and property criminals behind bars certainly keeps them off the streets. But it does little to change their behavior.

"Drug addiction is a driver of both drug and property crimes because people who are addicted are driven to find the resources to buy more drugs," explains Ginger Martin, director of transition services for the Oregon Department of Corrections.

And federal Bureau of Justice statistics found that recidivism for property crimes--about 75 percent--nearly double the rate for violent crimes.

Put simply, imprisoning property criminals without addressing their addiction is an expensive game of Whac-a-Mole.

Mannix's measure contains no provision for addiction treatment, which is partly why Kroger, the Oregon District Attorneys Association and the state's other major law enforcement groups are supporting the legislative referral of Measure 57.

A 2006 study by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy often cited by both supporters and critics of drug treatment examined results from 571 treatment programs around the country.

The study found that some treatment methods are ineffective, but that some community-based approaches such as drug courts (which are now widespread in Oregon counties) can be extremely effective and could return as much as $4 in benefits for every dollar invested.

Kroger is a believer. The Lewis & Clark law professor has made Oregon's failure to spend money on drug treatment a central plank of his candidacy.

Over the past 10 years, even as spending on Oregon prisons has soared, state figures show that the money allocated to treat inmates has shrunk 34 percent.

Kroger argues that simply locking up drug and property criminals without addressing their addiction is an expensive recipe for failure.

"We can't afford to throw money away, and that's what you do when you lock addicts up without treating them," he says.

Since his signature achievement, 1994's Measure 11, Kevin Mannix's political career has nose-dived.

He lost two races for attorney general, two for governor and, earlier this year, the 5th Congressional District's Republican primary.

But Mannix may end up influencing budget choices and criminal justice policy far more through the fall ballot than he ever could have as an elected official.

He says regardless of the outcome in November, he will have forced lawmakers and the public to focus on an ill too long ignored.

"This isn't about me," he says. "It's about doing something for the greater good."

John Goodman hopes that if either measure passes in November, it will be Measure 57.

Having racked up 47 felony convictions, and having seen his former running mates rack up countless more, he's convinced that addicts will keep committing crimes until they're no longer hooked.

"Until you address the addiction," he says, "there's nothing anybody can do to stop them."

Getting Clean

For many Portland addicts, Randy Sorvisto is the end of the line.

Sorvisto, an ex-con and former heroin addict, came up with the idea for Central City Concern's Recovery Mentor Program in 1999.

Since then, Sorvisto and colleagues with similar backgrounds have used their experience to help 1,500 addicts try to get straight.

One of the Recovery Mentor Program's success stories is Tammy Wilkins.

From the age of 13, when she dropped out of Binnsmead Elementary in Southeast Portland, until almost her 40th birthday, Wilkins was an addict and one-woman crime wave.

Wilkins got her first felony drug conviction right after her 18th birthday and spent 15 of the next 20 years in and out of Oregon prisons.

"I had complete tunnel vision," says Wilkins, now 40. "Anything that was not about drug-seeking or criminal activity didn't exist."

Most people might find the prospect of prison terrifying. But Wilkins says that compared with her life on the street, where she often slept in doorways, got beaten by a boyfriend, and was hungry and dirty, incarceration was a welcome respite.

"Prison is not as bad as they make it out to be on television," Wilkins says. "It's like a big, dysfunctional daycare."

After spending nearly all of the '90s in prison, Wilkins was on the street from 2000 to 2005.

She says freedom nearly destroyed her.

"I was homeless," she says. "I lost [custody of] my son."

In 2005, she returned to prison for 13 months for possession of a stolen car (under Mannix's Measure 61, she would have gotten 18 months).

Before going back to prison, she says, she finally hit bottom and applied to enter the Recovery Mentor Program, which includes supervised housing, addiction treatment, life-skills tutoring and career counseling.

A Portland State study of mentor-program participants completed in January found "profound reductions in both drug use and criminal activity post-treatment."

Wilkins says unlike other programs, the CCC effort worked because the leaders were not social workers or medical professionals.

"I'm going to be an asset to the community," says Wilkins, now studying Web design at Portland Community College. "Because for the first time in my life, I feel like I've got something to lose."


ECONorthwest's 2008 study found that the cost of drug and alcohol abuse exceeds the positive economic contribution made by the state's agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting industries.

Oregon has consistently had more than double the national rate of drug-related deaths, according to Oregon Department of Human Services figures.

It costs $28,470 annually to house one inmate in an Oregon prison, according to Department of Corrections figures. That expense does not include capital and debt costs.

Oregon has fewer police per thousand residents than any other state, according to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission.

Per-household, inflation-adjusted spending attributable to the Oregon Department of Corrections increased 179 percent, from $245 to $684, between 1987 and 2007.

Oregon's 2007-09 general fund budget already contains about 36 percent more for corrections than higher education.

Last year in California, New York and Texas, state prison populations fell, according to the Pew Research Center.

The full text of both measures are available at:

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