A wall and guard tower at Oregon State Penitentiary prison.

Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, Ore., May 19, 2021. Efforts to reform mandatory prison sentences in the state Legislature this year have failed, a key proponent of those changes told OPB.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Oregon lawmakers won’t make any changes to mandatory minimum prison sentences this legislative session.

THANKS TO OUR SPONSOR:

“At this point, I don’t see us being able to move anything forward,” Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, told OPB on Thursday.

Prozanski is the chief sponsor of Senate Bill 401, which would have made sentences for Measure 11 crimes other than murder presumptive, rather than mandatory, granting judges more discretion.

The bill is currently in the Senate Rules Committee, where Prozanski said he expects it to stay.

Voters passed Measure 11 in 1994, setting a statutory floor for how long a person must spend in prison for certain convictions, such as murder, assault, rape and robbery. Making changes to Measure 11 requires a two-thirds vote in the Legislature, meaning Prozanski would’ve needed to get several Senate Republicans on board.

Going into a legislative session where racial equity and law enforcement were major themes, several bills proposed sweeping changes to Measure 11. As the session progressed, however, those bills each began to drop potential changes.

A lawmaker wearing a face mask is seen in focus from the site sitting at a desk on the Oregon Senate floor. Other people are also at desks, but out of focus.

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, on the Senate floor, May 18, 2021.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

THANKS TO OUR SPONSOR:

With the legislation stalled and time in the session running out, Prozanski quietly pitched a stripped down version of the bill late last month. Rather than scrapping Measure 11 altogether, the amended bill would have stripped mandatory sentences for second degree assault and second degree robbery. The charges are some of the most common Measure 11 offenses.

The Oregon District Attorneys Association came out against the stripped back changes to Measure 11, saying it was too late in the session to provide guarantees for crime victims that the bill wouldn’t have unintended consequences that could hurt future victims.

“I don’t know who I’m really supposed to be negotiating with,” Prozanski said of the Oregon District Attorneys Association. “There are 36 independent elected officials.”

District attorneys in Deschutes, Multnomah and Wasco counties supported SB 401, and any changes to Measure 11. Those district attorneys have taken a more progressive approach to the office, and agree that aspects of Measure 11 have disproportionately affected communities of color. Prozanski said he believes that getting support from district attorneys would have helped in lobbying Republican lawmakers to support the bill.

The Oregon District Attorneys Association and some Republican lawmakers have said they’re open to conversations after the session ends, especially on more narrow changes to Measure 11.

Prozanski had pushed the legislation, in part, because of disparities and unfairness Measure 11 presents for criminal defendants.

In March, the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission released a report that found some people of color are charged with Measure 11 crimes at a higher rate than they are represented in the state’s overall population. Specifically, Native American, Latino and Black Oregonians were overrepresented in second degree assault and second degree robbery charges, compared to people who are identified as white, Asian or Pacific Islander.

Some prosecutors point to other research showing Measure 11 doesn’t produce racial disparities, or at least didn’t contribute to them. One data point they cite is a 2019 report from the Vera Institute of Justice, which noted Black Oregonians are incarcerated at 4.3 times the rate of white Oregonians — though the “Black incarceration rate has decreased 24 percent” since 1990.

“I will continue to work on trying to get the judges back the discretion that was supposed to be, and always has been, part of the system,” Prozanski said, “and try and remove the power and control district attorneys maintain by having mandatory minimum sentencing as the beginning negotiation on their part.”



THANKS TO OUR SPONSOR:
THANKS TO OUR SPONSOR:

Related Stories