criminal justice

Jackson County Sheriff

Sheriffs across the state of Oregon have a question for the legislature: where's the rest of the money? 

The budget for the state Department of Corrections includes funding for the counties to hold and/or supervise criminal offenders within their borders.  This year the DOC budget closed with less money than the sheriffs expected, and less than they say it takes to properly supervise all those people. 

The Oregon Sheriffs Association and its members are raising a ruckus, disputing the state's position that fewer people are now supervised, so less money is needed. 

Image of sheriff standing in a classroom.
Erik Neumann / JPR

The sheriff of Jackson County is continuing to campaign for a new jail to address what he says is serious overcrowding at the facility in Medford.

Philip Groshong/Cincinnati Opera

When a prosecutor switches sides and begins calling out the excesses and abuses of his former fellows, it's bound to have an impact.  And so it was with Mark Godsey and his book Blind Injustice: A Former Prosecutor Exposes the Psychology and Politics of Wrongful Convictions

But the work has taken an interesting turn: it has been turned into an opera.  Cincinnati Opera premiered the sung version of "Blind Injustice" in late July, with performances running through July 27th. 

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Criminal justice reform advocates are getting a thorough airing of their proposals, with some changes in law already passed. 

Oregon is one of several states where the legislature is considering bills to change the juvenile justice system, so people do not enter the justice system as children and stay there for life.  

The senate passed a comprehensive overhaul bill, SB 1008, on Tuesday.  The bill goes to the house.

The ACLU of Oregon is one of the groups pushing for juvenile justice reform. 

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Getting a job can be an adventure in the best of circumstances.  Having a criminal record is not the best of circumstances, but people with prison in the past need work in the present and future. 

Nathan Beard helps people with criminal records find work.  His assignments include helping people through Jackson County's probation office. 

The first decade of this century was a big one for Oregon prisons.  The state's incarceration rate increased by 50 percent over the decade. 

That is clearly not sustainable, and is a major reason why Oregon's Criminal Justice Commission runs a Justice Reinvestment program.  It hands out grants to programs all over the state designed to reduce incarceration and recidivism, or both. 

Josh Estey/AusAID

Criminal justice reform in the United States has lately focused on reducing the number of adults living behind bars, more than 2 million of them. 

At the same time, California's new governor is focused on reforming the juvenile justice system.  Gavin Newsom wants to move the juvenile justice agency out of the corrections department and into human services. 

This and other changes are welcome news for the National Council on Crime and Delinquency

Brian Turner via Flickr

The right to a lawyer for people charged with crimes, even if they can't afford lawyers, is assured by the sixth amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  But the quality of that free legal representation can vary from state to state. 

And in Oregon, says the Sixth Amendment Center, the system has some problems. 

Among them: lack of transparency, complexity of bureaucracy, and disincentives for lawyers to provide the best representation. 

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Adam Benforado is a lawyer, but not a big fan of the criminal justice system, at least the way it works now. 

The big problem, as he sees it, is a human one: people have flaws, so flawed people run the criminal justice system.  And they often make things worse by trying to cover their flaws, in Benforado's view. 

He joined us in 2015 to talk about his book Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice

Brian Turner via Flickr

Charles Longjaw had already admitted to a killing in Oregon and a rape in Washington.  Yet he was released from custody in 2015, and charged with committing another murder the next year. 

The situation comes back to the law under which he was found "guilty except for insanity."  GEI verdicts, as they are known, can lead to offenders being released despite predictions of danger. 

The non-profit news organization ProPublica uncovered issues with the law in a joint project with the Malheur Enterprise. 

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It was back in May of last year that Josephine County voters said yes, re-open the long-closed juvenile shelter. 

And it took until this month to get there. 

The shelter opened again recently, one sign of services expanded by the property tax levy passed in May. 

"Innocent until proven guilty" is the law of the land.  But there's a reason to keep that statement in quotes. 

Society at large has a tendency to assume some degree of guilt whenever a person is arrested. 

Mark Godsey spent his career working to put guilty people behind bars, and seriously doubting that any innocent people ended up there.  Then he reluctantly ran the Kentucky Innocence Project.  It changed his life. 

Godsey writes about what he has learned in Blind Injustice: A Former Prosecutor Exposes the Psychology and Politics of Wrongful Convictions

Scott Sanchez/Wikimedia

Josephine County's longstanding issues with public safety funding emerge unchanged from yet another election cycle. 

County voters rejected the latest version of a property tax levy that would have provided funding for sheriff's deputies, jail beds, and prosecutors.  Measure 17-74, like every public safety levy before it, went down to defeat.  In the first rounds of returns, the No votes led the Yes votes, 61 to 39 percent.

Josephine County is one of many Western Oregon counties that depended heavily on timber receipts from federal land to fill its general fund.  With little logging, the revenues crashed, and the county's property tax rate is too low to make up the difference.  Sheriff's patrols have been reduced to a few hours a day, with Oregon State Police picking up some of the criminal justice slack.  The levy loss ensures a continuation of that arrangement.

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The words "jail" and "prison" are often used interchangeably, and incorrectly so. 

Prison is supposed to be the place where people go upon conviction; jail is where people awaiting trial are held, if they represent a threat or a flight risk. 

But the lines have blurred, especially as both Oregon and California have taken to using jail for convicts, to keep the state prison populations under control. 

And the Vera Institute of Justice questions how many people in jail are really either threats or flight risks. 

VENTSday: Criminal Justice & Reform

Aug 2, 2016
Josh Estey/AusAID

The number of people serving prison time in America--2.2 Million--can be abstract. 

So let's make it more concrete: that's more than the population of 15 states.  Criminal justice reform is becoming attractive to politicians of many stripes, and you can air your thoughts on reform on VENTSday this week. 

VENTSday removes the guests and puts listener comments front and center on The Exchange. Once a week, it's all about you... we plop a topic on the table, post a survey on our Facebook page (and below), and open the phone lines and email box for live comments.

The topics can range from presidential politics to how you spend your days off. Got an observation or opinion? Share it with the State of Jefferson on VENTSday. Join by phone at 800-838-3760, email JX@jeffnet.org, or take the survey online.

How California Compensates Crime Victims

Apr 5, 2016
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It is National Crime Victims' Rights Week next week (April 10-16), providing a chance to catch up on what society does for the victims of crimes. Reports by JPR's Emily Cureton about domestic violence in far Northern California found that violent crime victims there are getting much less support than previously.

This may be an outreach problem, not a budget one, since California provides a stable Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP) to give money to the victims of some violent crimes. 

Claims range from medical payments to home security installations. 

Josh Estey/AusAID

It’s been a dramatic few years for California’s criminal justice system — voters and lawmakers have approved a slew of changes since 2011, including measures that softened the state’s harsh three strikes law andshrunk penalties for nonviolent crimes.

Now, advocates pushing those types of reforms are hoping that recent comments by Gov. Jerry Brown have opened the door to even more sweeping changes.