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"Are laws tough enough?" is the wrong question. Although I agree that prevention is the best investment, when we get to sentencing the question should be "are laws and sentences effective enough?"
Unfortunatley, the debate is monopolized by an ideological divide that a recent Oregonian op ed characterized as between those who believe in personal responsibility and those who blame society for all crime. Sentencing laws and sentences are usually used as trophies in that dispute and not as tools to achieve public safety. The tragic truth is that outside treatment courts 95% or so of all sentences are essentially produced by plea bargains that have nothing responsibly to do with public safety.
By far, the vast majority of DUII offenders - even those who get a conviction in a new case after a "successful" diversion -- never come back again. It makes no sense to impose draconian sentences on all first offenders - we can't afford it and it would do far more harm than the good we'd accomplish by capturing (and eventually releasing) the really dangerous offenders in that enormous net. Besides, it would be cheaper to install interlock devices on all vehicles.
Effective sentencing follows these rules
- insist on responsible pursuit of crime reduction when sentencing;
- understand that different things work or not on different offenders; use risk and need assessment to craft sentences;
- use treatment courts (instead of or after substantial jail sentences) on those who are most at risk and most likely to benefit from treatment courts;
- get past the severity debate and understand that what's really "tough" on crime reduces crime -- and that severity works for some and not for others;
- measure the performance of prosecution and sentencing by success in public safety -- and not by points in ideological debate
Michael Marcus, circuit court judge, Multnomah County
posted 3 years, 9 months ago
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