A coalition including district attorneys, sheriffs, and justice reform groups is asking the legislature to triple funding for the Justice Reinvestment grant program. The program funds services like parole, drug treatment, transitional housing, and mental health.

The state gave out $17 million in justice reinvestment grants to county law enforcement in 2013 and 2014. The groups are asking the legislature to invest $58.9 million in the upcoming biennium.

They say it is money the state will save if it can keep the incarcerated population from growing, and avoid the cost of opening a new prison wing.

In the last year, Oregon’s prison population stopped growing and dropped ever so slightly, from about 14,700 people to about 14,600 people.  New prison admissions also dropped by about 3 percent, according to Mike Schmidt, Executive Director of Oregon’s Criminal Justice Commission.

“That’s 188 less people that walked through the prison doors,” he says.

Schmidt says there wasn’t a big drop in the number of convictions between 2013 and 2014. He believes reforms that began in 2013 have had a modest effect on the length of sentences and the number of prison admissions.

First, a law that passed in 2013 allows some inmates to leave prison three months early if they can show they have a plan for transiting back into the community.  

Second, Multnomah County reports it is sending about 20 fewer people to state prison each month. The county is diverting more people into a parole program that includes drug treatment and mental health services.  

It says that program has saved the state about $5 million dollars so far.