Oregon incarcerates young people at a higher rate than almost any other state, according to a new report from the Oregon Council on Civil Rights.
The report focuses on ballot Measure 11, which passed in 1994.
Measure 11 imposed mandatory minimum sentences for violent crimes like rape, murder and assault. It also required 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds charged with those crimes to be tried as adults.
Since the passage of Measure 11, Oregon's crime rate has dropped. But Bobbin Singh with the Oregon Justice Resource Center doesn't think credit is due to the measure.
He said Measure 11 essentially ignores more recent science that shows human brains don’t fully develop until someone's 20s.
“Are we going to embrace science and move forward with that and reform our justice system? Or are we going to continue to allow what I would argue is fear, anger, retribution, ignorance and racism guide our policies?" Singh said.
Dr. Alisha Moreland-Capuia, a physician and executive director of the OHSU Avel Gordly Center for Healing, stressed that while our understanding of brain science has changed, Oregon policies have not.
“Brain science tells us that for youth, the brain is still under construction,” Moreland-Capuia said. "Young people lack the skills to effectively navigate an adult criminal justice system that disrupts the development process at a critical stage. Oregon should join the many other states in recognizing the role of brain development in criminal justice reform.”
The report finds young African-Americans in Multnomah County are 13 times more likely to be indicted than their white peers. It also finds the costs of incarcerating teens are high — nearly $100,000 a year per child to incarcerate Measure 11 offenders.
The report said the impact on young people can be substantial, causing a lack of access to stable housing and higher barriers to education and employment.
"Youth charged under Measure 11 – even those who do not receive an adult sentence — face lifetime barriers to education and employment," said Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian. "We should modernize our approach to better prepare young people to have a meaningful life after release."
Measure 11 architect Kevin Mannix said he's always open to discussing improvements, but he thinks Measure 11 has been a success.
Mannix said that while youth are prosecuted for violent crimes in adult court, if found guilty they are incarcerated within the Oregon Youth Authority. He said the OYA tries to educate young people and reduce recidivism.