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BJA Justice Reinvestment Initiative

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  • Oregon's prison population grew 50 percent between 2000 and 2012.
  • Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) policies reduced mandatory minimums and sentences for certain crimes, strengthened reentry programs, and improved evidence-based practices for probation decisions, among other reforms.
  • These policies were projected to reduce the growth of the prison population by 870 inmates by 2023.
  • Oregon was projected to save up to $326 million over 10 years.
  • The state invested $35 million for public safety improvements, such as law enforcement training.
Between 2000 and 2012, Oregon's prison population increased nearly 50 percent, with a biennial corrections budget of more than $1.3 billion in 2012. With technical assistance from the Pew Charitable Trusts (Pew), state leaders determined that the increased use of prison for less serious offenses or violations of community supervision, longer lengths of stay, and gaps in evidence-based practices in community corrections were driving the growth of the prison population. Oregon passed justice reinvestment legislation in July 2013 to slow this growth. This legislation introduced a number of reforms, including removing mandatory minimums for repeat drug offenders, reducing sentences for certain crimes, strengthening reentry programming, and requiring risk and needs evaluations for probation decisions. These policies were expected to reduce the growth of Oregon's prison population by 870 inmates, leading to savings of $326 million in averted costs by 2023. Oregon allocated $35 million in upfront investment for victims' services, law enforcement training, community corrections, and the state's justice reinvestment account.

Oregon's incarceration rate grew four times that of the national average between 2000 and 2012. During this period, Oregon's prison population increased by nearly 50 percent and grew to more than 14,000 inmates.1 Oregon's total biennial corrections budget in 2012 was over $1.3 billion.2 Further, according to a forecast conducted by the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, the state's prison population was projected to increase by 2,000 inmates between 2012 and 2022, which would have cost the state an additional $600 million in corrections costs.3 Increased funding to prisons resulted in fewer dollars for community corrections and other public safety agencies.4 For example, the state's 2009–2011 biennial budget saw a 20 percent decrease in funding used by Oregon counties to supervise probationers and individuals on post-prison supervision.

Oregon had attempted to address these issues in July 2011, when the governor organized the Commission on Public Safety. The commission was a bipartisan, interagency working group tasked with analyzing the state's corrections and sentencing policies to understand how they affected the growth of the prison population. While the findings from this working group's analyses did not lead to legislation, they paved the way for future discourse on criminal justice reform.5 In May 2012, Oregon joined JRI.

After Oregon joined JRI, the governor reconvened the Commission of Public Safety and directed its members to address the current JRI efforts by developing evidence-based policy options that would limit the expanding use and cost of corrections while improving public safety. The commission consisted of bipartisan leaders in the three branches of state government, including the Oregon Supreme Court, the state legislature, and the Department of Corrections (DOC). The commission also included local criminal justice stakeholders, such as a sheriff, a director of a county community justice agency, a district attorney, a circuit court judge, a criminal defense lawyer, and a community advocate. The commission received technical assistance from Pew.6

After its first meeting in June 2012, the commission met 10 times through December of that year. To improve dissemination to and engagement of stakeholders across the state, the commission's meetings were held in three different cities (Bend, Salem, and Roseburg), were open to the public, and were archived online. The commission and Pew organized interviews with sheriffs, community corrections directors and DOC personnel, parole board members, and judges. They also organized two roundtables with victims' advocates and survivors in October 2012.7

Between June and December 2012, the commission, with assistance from Pew, analyzed corrections and sentencing data and assessed how related policies impacted Oregon's corrections system. After these data and policies were extensively reviewed, the commission was divided into two subgroups—sentencing and corrections—focused on developing targeted policies in those two areas. The subgroups met three times in the fall of 2012, and Pew interviewed stakeholders across the public and private spectrums, including victims' advocates, law enforcement, judges, and members of the parole board.8

By December, the commission had identified key drivers of the state's growing corrections budget and populations. Oregon had increased its use of prison for less serious offenders, such as those convicted of property crimes and technical violations, as well as low-risk offenders. Moreover, offenders were staying in prison for longer periods as a result of sentence length increases for drug offenses, sex offenses, and technical violations.9

In December 2012, the commission developed several policy options that would affect the prison population by reducing sentences for marijuana offenses and driving with license suspended; removing mandatory minimums and creating sentencing ranges for certain property, robbery, assault, and sex abuse offenses; reducing time served by expanding transitional leave and earned time; enhancing alternatives to incarceration; and allowing all youth offenders sentenced as adults to be reviewed by a judge after they serve half of their sentence to determine eligibility for community placement.10

These policy options were bundled into three packages and presented to the legislature. The most comprehensive package included all the options and would have had the largest impact on the prison population; the other two included a subset of the policy options and would have had more limited effects on the prison population.11

A number of the policy options proposed by the commission were codified into House Bill (HB) 3194, which passed in July 2013. This bill reserved prison for more serious offenders by removing mandatory minimums for repeat drug offenders and reducing sentences for marijuana offenses, driving with license suspended, and certain property crimes. HB 3194 also strengthened reentry programming and practices by expanding transitional leave for individuals returning from prison from 30 to 90 days and implementing earned discharge in community corrections. The bill also required the use of risk and needs evaluations in making probation decisions; required the development of specialty court standards; created a grant program to provide funding for counties to assess offenders and provide community-based sanctions, services, and programs that are designed to reduce recidivism and curb the use of incarceration; directed the creation of a cost-benefit analysis tool to assess programs; established the Oregon Center for Policing Excellence; and created a body to oversee implementation.12

Oregon's prison population increased from approximately 9,000 inmates in 2000 to more than 14,000 in 2012.13 The state projected this increase to continue over the next decade, leading to a prison population of more than 16,000 inmates by 2023.14 The JRI policies included in HB 3194 became effective upon passage of the legislation in July 2013 and were projected to reduce the growth of the prison population by 870 inmates through 2023.15

Officials in Oregon are in the process of implementing the policy changes established in HB 3194. The state established and funded the Justice Reinvestment Program and created a task force with several subcommittees to oversee implementation.16 The DOC conducted a study of the use of risk and needs assessment tools in all community corrections offices to ensure appropriate use and implementation and is currently assessing and releasing eligible inmates under the expanded transitional leave program. The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission developed evidence-based practice standards for specialty courts and started peer evaluations in early 2014, hosted a Justice Reinvestment Summit of over 400 attendees to educate local criminal justice stakeholders on evidence-based and promising practices, co-hosted a training with the Oregon Judicial Department on treatment courts and judicial interventions, and has provided ongoing staffing support to the task force. The Oregon Department of Public Safety, Standards, and Training established the Center for Policing Excellence (CPE), developed a training curriculum on evidence-based practices, and began conducting trainings in January 2014.

In 2015, Oregon focused its implementation efforts on: 1) creating an online knowledge bank to promote the use of evidence-based practices; 2) developing an online data dashboard to ensure stakeholders are informed about the trends in Oregon's criminal justice system since HB 3194 was enacted; 3) conducting a jurisdictional assessment of programs offered to identify gaps and overlaps; and 4) promoting the use of the new earned discharge program.

The Oregon Legislative Assembly invested $35 million of averted corrections expenditures to support public safety programs recommended as part of the work from the commission. These programs include investments in victims' services, sheriff departments, law enforcement training, and community corrections, as well as the creation of a justice reinvestment grant program to fund county public safety programs that reduce recidivism and prison utilization.

Oregon has developed system and performance measures to determine the full impact of HB 3194. The bill was projected to cut the estimated $600 million increase in Oregon's corrections budget by $326 million by reducing the growth of the prison population. Oregon plans to continue reinvesting these savings into local community corrections departments, treatment programs, and victims' services. 17

Related Resources

Oregon's 2013 Public Safety Reforms. The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2014. This report outlines the progress made in Oregon since the passage of HB 3194, with a focus on reforms in three counties. PDF

Public Attitudes on the Criminal Justice System in Oregon. The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2012. The results of a public attitude survey show Oregon voters strongly support policies that reduce prison populations and spending. Oregonians' attitudes toward the criminal justice system show two key priorities: getting the most for their tax dollars, and reducing recidivism once offenders are released. PDF

Protecting Public Safety and Reducing Correctional Costs in Oregon. Cascade Policy Institute and The Pew Center on the States, 2013. This report presents issue analysis and Oregon's corrections population projections. PDF

Time Served: Oregon. The Pew Center on the States, 2012. This fact sheet looks at a cross section of time served by offense type since 1990. PDF

Public Attitudes on Crime and Punishment in Oregon. The Pew Center on the States, 2012. When asked about crime and punishment, Oregon voters strongly support policies that get results, want evidence of the public safety impact of state policies, and want a solid taxpayer return-on-investment. PDF

1 in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections, Oregon. The Pew Center on the States, 2009. One in 33 adults in Oregon is under correctional control. PDF

Commission on Public Safety Report to the Governor. The Pew Center on the States, 2011. This report from the Commission on Public Safety shares key findings shaping Oregon's prison population growth and policy recommendations. PDF

Updated July 2015


1 Pew Center on the States. 2012. "Oregon Prison Drivers." Presentation to Oregon's JRI Working Group, Salem, Oregon, June 29.
2 Kitzhaber, John. "Phase I Letter of Interest." May 11, 2012.
3 Pew Charitable Trusts. 2013. "State Fact Sheet: Public Safety in Oregon." Last modified May 28.
4 Commission on Public Safety. 2012. Commission on Public Safety Report to the Governor. Salem, OR: Commission on Public Safety.
5 Ibid.
6 Pew Charitable Trusts (2013).
7 Commission on Public Safety (2012).
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid; Pew Center on the States (2012).
10 Ibid.
11 Ibid.
12 Pew Charitable Trusts (2013); Oregon House Bill 3194, 2013.
13 Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2013. Prisoners Series. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
14 Oregon Office of Economic Analysis. 2012. Corrections Population Forecast. Salem: Oregon Office of Economic Analysis.
15 Pew Charitable Trusts (2013).
16 Vera Institute of Justice. "Assessment of Oregon for Participation in JRI Phase II." 2012.
17 Pew Charitable Trusts (2013).

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