Some years ago I arrived at my home in Portland to find the window in the back door smashed. Glass was spread around the back hall. Drawers and closet doors were left open where a burglar had gone through them looking for valuables. A few things were missing - some expensive, but most with just sentimental value.
The burglar probably sold the things he stole for under a hundred dollars, even though it cost far more to replace them. He probably was going after quick cash to buy his next drug fix.
Most property crime is committed by addicts supporting a drug habit. Unless they shake their addiction, they'll continue to cycle through our prisons and return to the same criminal ways once they're released.
The November ballot presents Oregon voters with a choice between two measures aimed at property and drug crimes. As chair of the House Judiciary Committee I joined with fellow legislators and law enforcement leaders to write Measure 57.
Measure 57 would target criminals who prey on vulnerable victims. Identity theft of over $10,000 from a senior would require 16 to 45 months in prison. Someone who deals meth, cocaine, heroin, or ecstasy to a minor would get 34 to 72 months. Existing law provides shorter sentences or just probation for these crimes. Measure 57 also would lengthen the sentences for repeat property offenders and require fewer convictions before they apply.
In addition, Measure 57 would provide additional funding for drug treatment. More inmates in state prisons would have access to treatment programs. The state also would make grants to counties for drug programs, including drug courts that supervise addicted offenders without putting them behind bars.
The competing proposal, Measure 61, would apply longer mandatory sentences to those convicted of any of 10 common property or drug crimes. It would apply the same sentence to someone convicted for the first time as it would to a repeat offender, taking away from judges the discretion to make the punishment fit the crime and the criminal's record.
Measure 61 would do nothing about drug addiction. Property offenders would continue to cycle through our prisons.
The two measures carry quite different price tags. Measure 61 would cost about $200 million a year in additional prison operating costs, while Measure 57 would cost less than half that. Measure 61 would require spending $1.3 billion to construct new prisons, four times as much as Measure 57.
Oregon already spends a higher percentage of its general fund on prisons than any other state and is one of just five states that spends more on prisons than on higher education. The high cost of Measure 61 would take us further in that misguided direction. Every additional dollar spent by Measure 61 has to come from somewhere - either higher taxes or out of schools, health care, and other public safety programs.
If both Measure 57 and Measure 61 receive a majority of yes votes, the one receiving the most yes votes takes effect and the other does not. I recommend a yes vote on Measure 57 because it targets the most serious property offenders and addresses the addictions that cause their crimes. I recommend a no vote on Measure 61 because it offers expensive one-size-fits-all sentencing that doesn't go to the root of the problem.
Rep. Greg Macpherson, Lake Oswego, represents Oregon House District 38.