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The Oregon Legislature Enacts Law to Reduce Recidivism for Released Inmates

House Bill 3194 made some important changes to the manner in which some crimes are punished. The most significant changes were to the manner in which prison inmates are released.

In the past, too many prison inmates were released into the community without sufficient support or supervision and without using modern tools to determine exactly what their needs are so they can remain crime free. The result is that these former inmates had a greater risk for committing new crimes and returning to prison at the expense of the taxpayer. Below are some smart changes to the manner in which inmates are released which address some of these problems.

Most Portland criminal defense lawyers do not pay much attention to what happens to their clients during or after incarceration. We at James F. O’Rourke, Jr. and Associates work hard to get out clients who have to go to prison placed in the best facilities with the best programming to suit their individual needs. We also work hard to help our clients get the help they need so that they do not reoffend. We are very happy with the HB 3194 changes.

For many years the Department of Corrections has allowed some inmates convicted of non-violent crimes to ask to be released on “transitional leave” for the last 90 days of their sentence. The inmate had to put together a plan and have it approved by the Department of Corrections. These plans could include residential drug treatment or residence at supervised transitional leave centers. During this time inmates could look for work and find a place to live. During this time an inmate could also get connected with programs that are required as a condition of supervision. Now, under HB 3194, the Department of Corrections is required to identify all transitional leave eligible inmates and help them formulate 30 day transitional leave programs. This will greatly increase the number of inmates who will receive transitional leave programming.

The Department of Corrections uses a tool called the Level of Services-Case Management Inventory (LS-CMI) to help identify a person’s specific needs (every criminal attorney should understand how this tool works and its limitations). The LS-CMI takes an inventory of a person’s risks and needs over all personal domains. The scales used include: criminal history; education/employment; leisure/recreation; family/marital; companions; alcohol/drug problems; anti-social patterns; and pro-criminal attitude/orientation. By measuring a persons risks in each of these areas, a parole officer can formulate a plan for helpful programming and can measure a persons progress in these areas. HB 3194 now requires that a risk/needs assessment be done as a part of a person’s supervision. This is a smart plan. Research shows that programs are effective in preventing recidivism and that programs are much less expensive than incarceration.

One of the most interesting plans in HB 3194 is the establishment of “Re-Entry Courts.” This is a brand new idea that makes great sense. Currently, when a judge sentences a person to prison they are sent to the Department of Corrections and the judge loses all authority to monitor and supervise the person when they are released. When an inmate is released they are placed on “Post-Prison Supervision” and supervised by a parole officer. If the person violates parole, the Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision determines the penalty for the misconduct. This system is over-burdened. Parole officers and the Parole Board work very hard, but they have too many people to supervise. Under HB 3194 a circuit court judge can order a person to participate in a Re-Entry Court upon release from prison. After release, the judge has the authority to set and enforce supervision conditions, as well as monitor a person after release. This adds an extra level of support and monitoring after release from prison.

As a Portland Criminal Defense Lawyer I support these changes which focus on rehabilitation.

Legislature Approves Some of Governor Kitzhaber’s Prison Reform Bill

House Bill 3194 started out as an ambitious plan to modify Measure 11 and to end the mandatory prosecution of juveniles in adult court.  Unfortunately, none of the changes to Measure 11 survived during the amendment process.

Significant changes were made in the way some crimes are punished and in the process in which prison inmates are released back into the community.

HB 3194 removes marijuana and hashish from the sentencing enhancements for manufacturing or delivering “substantial quantities” or in the course of a “commercial drug offense.”  As a result, the seriousness of these crimes for the purposes of Oregon’s sentencing guidelines is dramatically reduced.  It will be very difficult for a person to be sent to prison for a marijuana manufacturing or delivery crime, regardless of quantity.  This was good news for Oregon Drug Crimes Lawyers.

HB 3194 also lowers the crime seriousness of Felony Driving While Suspended, as long as the underlying suspension did not result from a vehicular homicide.  In addition, Robbery in the Third Degree and Identity Theft have been removed from the minimum sentence provisions of the Repeat Property Offender’s Act.

HB 3194 also makes some positive changes in formulating release plans and supervising inmates when they are released from prison.  In the past, some prison inmates were eligible to request “transitional leave,” where an inmate would be released early at the end of a prison sentence and live in a structured environment while they find work and a place to live.  Now the Department of Corrections is required to formulate transitional leave plans for eligible inmates.

The Bill also gives a sentencing judge the authority to order that a person be released to a “re-entry court” upon their release from prison. A re-entry court would have the authority to set conditions of supervision, monitor the former inmate and impose jail sanctions for violations of supervision conditions.  This change allows a re-entry court judge, rather that the Parole Board, to supervise and monitor released inmates.

HB 3194 also requires the Department of Corrections to use scientific tools to determine the risks and needs of released inmates.  These “Risk/Needs” tools are very effective in identifying underlying problems, such as drug dependence, and other destabilizing factors that lead former prison inmates to re-offend.  Also, the Department of Corrections is required to track outcomes and determine what strategies and programs actually work in reducing recidivism.

As a Portland, Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyer, I support these changes in sentencing rules and in the manner in which inmates are released.  The assistance in reintegrating released inmates into the community should be particularly effective in keeping people from returning to prison and keeping track of “what works” is just common sense.