Fourteen years after Oregon voters approved Measure 11, David Rogers believes they're ready to revisit the idea.
Rogers, director of the Portland-based nonprofit Partnership for Safety and Justice, will begin to learn this week if he's right.
His group has two bills up for legislative hearings Wednesday, April 11. Both are designed to soften the effect on juveniles of Measure 11, which made some felonies punishable by mandatory minimum sentences—including for youths over 15.
HB 2904—a so-called "second look" bill—would give judges the option of letting prisoners serve the second half of their sentence in the community if they were convicted as a juvenile under Measure 11.
SB 1014 would let judges decide if youths charged with a Measure 11 crime should be tried as adults.
WW spoke with Rogers about his opposition to Measure 11 and what his organization's proposals would mean for young offenders.
WW: What good has Measure 11 done?
David Rogers: Measure 11 really is a deeply problematic set of policies.
I know you feel that way. I want to know if you think removing judicial discretion and creating set sentences for a certain set of crimes has done anything of value for the citizens of Oregon.
I think it would be a real stretch to say that.
And to people who suggest Measure 11 is one of the reasons the crime rate has gone down, would you say you disagree or it doesn't matter?
You can't in any concrete way make a connection between the passage of Measure 11 and the reduction in crime rates that Oregon has experienced.
First of all, starting in the mid-'90s, crime rates have been trending downward around the country. There have been plenty of studies to show that there isn't really a direct relationship between incarceration rates and crime rates. If you look at the same time period, shortly after the passage of Measure 11—in New York, California, Washington state and Oregon—what you'll see is that Oregon's incarceration rate is four times that of those states. Yet those states have experienced similar reductions in crime.
Has your organization done any polling on this issue?
And what do Oregonians feel?
It's worth noting that a year ago we commissioned a [poll] on a range of criminal-justice issues, and 61 percent of registered, likely voters in the state of Oregon support a second look for youth convicted of a Measure 11 sentence. The public is already there. That's what I want to tell you. From an emotional perspective, do we actually have to move people? I would suggest not.
So why not take it to the ballot?
Oftentimes legislators have abdicated their responsibility to actually legislate on difficult issues. These are policy issues that legislators should feel comfortable taking a position on. And they can't just be afraid of anything that's criminal-justice related, and anything that's sentencing-reform related.
Are there cases where you think youths should be tried as adults in adult court?
I think the decision should be made on a case-by-case basis. I very much believe a judge is an appropriate person to be able to make that decision. That's what their job is.
Under your group's bills, will there still be cases where youths will be tried as adults?
Absolutely. This doesn't create a free pass by any means. When things have happened that are really scary and egregious and a young person seems like they are a major threat to safety, I imagine that a judge will decide that young person should definitely be treated in adult court. What Senate Bill 1014 does is it creates a thoughtful process to make sure young people don't slip through the cracks.