Marion County Courthouse.

As Oregon legislators consider scaling back a tough-on-crime law passed in 1994, the Oregon District Attorneys Association hopes to rally the public against the changes.

Passed by voters during a crime wave in the 1990s, Measure 11 imposes mandatory minimum sentencing for several violent crimes that cannot be reduced, and prisoners cannot be paroled before finishing their minimum sentence.

But the measure has come under scrutiny for filling prisons, disproportionately impacting communities of color and leaving thousands with felony records.

There are several bills in the Legislature that seek to change the mandatory sentences to presumptive ones that would give sentencing discretion to a judge, except in the case of murder.

Currently, those convicted of first-degree assault, first-degree kidnapping, first-degree robbery and first-degree arson face seven-and-a-half-year prison terms under Measure 11.

Under House Bill 2002, the court could impose a greater or lesser sentence under Oregon’s sentencing guidelines. Those guidelines consider someone’s criminal history when imposing a sentence.

Under those guidelines, crimes like assault, arson and robbery would net an offender nearly three years or up to six in prison.

Another bill, Senate Bill 191, would allow those convicted under Measure 11 crimes a reduction in their sentence for “appropriate institutional behavior and participation in certain programming unless otherwise ordered by court for substantial and compelling reasons.”

Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson spoke to Salem Reporter about her concerns around the erosion of a “necessary public safety tool” in December.  

Clarkson, speaking as president of the Oregon District Attorneys Association, said Legislators need to hear from their constituents on sweeping reform proposals.

“While [voters] have spoken before at the ballot box in favor of mandatory minimum sentences for violent felonies, our Legislators need to hear it again. The proposals as drafted would have devastating effects on victims and their families and our crime rates,” Clarkson said in a statement Wednesday. 

ODAA said Measure 11 has reduced the violent crime rate in Oregon and bills before the Legislature would “reduce prison sentences for Oregon’s most violent and sexually dangerous criminals.”

In the release, ODAA said Measure 11 addresses conduct, not color.

“[W]hile non-whites are in fact disproportionally represented within Oregon’s offender population, there is no evidence that Measure 11 has exacerbated this disparity,” the release said.

Black people make up about one in 10 of all Measure 11 indictments, and one in five indictments for second-degree robbery and attempted murder, a 2011 analysis by the state Criminal Justice Commission found. That’s despite only accounting for 2% of Oregon’s population, according to the most recent Census data. 

Those convicted of Measure 11 crimes aside from murder face anywhere from five to 10 years in prison, but the ODAA report highlights “several examples of real-life crimes” that could see dramatically reduced sentences or probation under proposed reforms.

The examples include raping a teenager at knifepoint, intentionally suffocating a baby until they go blind, attempted murder and filming an adult raping a child.

While rape carries a more than eight-year sentence under Measure 11, ODAA said a person could face nearly three years in prison or probation for the crime under proposed reforms.

Those hypothetical sentences assume prisoners qualified for early release or a judge found a compelling reason to put someone on probation under Oregon law.

Under Oregon sentencing guidelines, rape with a weapon falls under the second highest crime category with a sentence that can range from less than five years to more than a decade. 

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected]

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