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October 13, 2008 -- Statesman Journal (Salem, OR)

Measures Would Swell State Prisons

Adding Space May Top $1 Billion, State Analysts Say

By Alan Gustafson, Statesman Journal

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Two dueling measures on the Nov. 4 ballot ask Oregon voters to impose tougher sentences on property criminals and could require the state to spend $314 million to $1.3 billion to build more prison space, state analysts said.

Measure 61, sponsored by former Salem legislator Kevin Mannix, seeks to extend mandatory minimum prison sentences to first-time identity thieves, burglars and drug dealers. It also targets repeat offenders for tougher sentences.

Measure 57, an alternative placed on the ballot by the Legislature, proposes to increase prison terms for repeat offenders but also would require more comprehensive drug and alcohol treatment for such inmates.

Under either measure, Oregon's 14-prison, 13,600-inmate corrections system would swell with more non-violent felons.

State analysts project that Measure 61 would increase the prison population by 4,106 to 6,389 inmates by mid-2012.

To house the influx of offenders, the state would need to spend $1.1 billion to and $1.3 billion to expand existing facilities or build new ones, according to state estimates. It also would cost between $522 million and $797 million for operating costs in the first five years.

State analysts estimate that Measure 57 would send to prison an estimated 1,670 property and drug offenders, requiring the state to spend $314 million for prison expansion, plus $411 million in operating costs in the first five years.

Public opinion polls indicate that both measures are likely to pass. If that happens, the one with the most votes will go into effect Jan. 1.

The competing property-crime measures come at a time when the U.S. financial system is shaky and the economy is ailing, raising concerns about funding for Oregon's 2009-11 budget.

When lawmakers convene in January, they will face tough choices about funding for schools, mental-health care, prisons and other needs.

Despite tough times, Mannix said he's confident that most Oregonians favor the idea of locking up more property criminals.

"I would prefer different economic circumstances," he said, "but in terms of priorities, I think the voters are going to say that in tough times, we ought to be fighting for public safety and fighting for education. Those are the two most important things."

Mannix disputed the $1 billion price tag for prison construction linked to passage of Measure 61. He called the state's numbers bogus.

Instead of building new prisons to house nonviolent property offenders, Mannix maintains that prison officials need to come up with less expensive alternatives, such as work camps.

"The majority of them are predators, but they're not violent criminals, so put them out to work doing reforestation, building parks and the like," he said. "This measure will be a swift kick in the rear end for corrections. It will say to them, 'Get back to work camps.' "

Measure 57, the competing property-crime proposal crafted by the Legislature, has garnered support from nearly every major law-enforcement group in the state.

Walt Beglau, the district attorney of Marion County, said he favors Measure 57 because it focuses on repeat offenders and because it "features treatment dollars that desperately are needed in our response to property crime."

"Many of our property offenders are wrapped up in addiction," he said. "If we address the addiction end of it, we can kind of steer them away from it."

Beglau said the proposed mix of toughened enforcement and treatment has received striking support from police, prosecutors and others fighting against property crime.

"There's a lot of public safety on board for (Measure) 57," he said. "I'm pretty confident that just about every DA and a lot of law enforcement are supporting it."

Ballot measures seeking to toughen sentences for property offenders come during a two-year drop in such crimes. FBI statistics indicate that Oregon property crimes dropped by 20 percent in the past two years -- the second-biggest drop in the country.

"Yes, we've had some improvement. It's not been nearly what we need," Mannix said.

As it stands now, he said, many property offenders receive terms of probation rather than jail or prison time.

"Eighty percent of convicted felons right now are getting probation, and the public knows it and they are mad as hell about it," Mannix said.

Advocating for mandatory prison terms for felons is nothing new for Mannix, a Republican who waged two unsuccessful campaigns for governor. He sponsored a 1994 voter-approved initiative that imposed tougher sentences on violent offenders.

Since Measure 11 took effect in 1995, Oregon's prison population has increased more than 80 percent, spurring a prison-building boom. During the same time, Oregon's rate of violent crime has dropped by 45 percent.

State forecasters' initial predictions about Measure 11's effect on the prison population proved to be vastly overstated.

Mannix said those errant predictions raise doubts about the validity of the state's current estimates about possible effects of the property-crime measures.

Property Crime Measures

Oregon voters will choose between two competing measures that propose to toughen sentences for convicted property and drug offenders.

Former legislator Kevin Mannix of Salem, the sponsor of Measure 61, proposes to extend mandatory minimum prison sentences to first-time property and drug offenders.

Measure 57 is an alternative written by the Legislature to increase prison terms for repeat offenders but also require more comprehensive drug and alcohol treatment for such inmates.

If both measures pass, the one with the most votes will take effect Jan. 1. Neither measure would become law if voters reject both proposals.

Measure 61

Explanation: Creates mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug, theft, forgery and burglary crimes

Effect of a Yes Vote: A state analysis concluded that the measure would increase Oregon's prison population by 4,106 to 6,389 inmates by July 2012.

Costs: State debt for prison construction estimated between $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion. Operational costs estimated between $522 million and $797 million in the next five years

Sponsor: Mannix

Measure 57

Explanation: Increases sentences for drug and theft crimes; requires the prison system to provide inmates with drug and alcohol treatment

Effect of a Yes Vote: A state analysis concluded that the measure would increase the state's prison population by 1,670 inmates.

Costs: State debt for prison construction estimated at $314 million. Operational costs estimated at $411 million during the next five years.

Sponsor: 2007 Legislature

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