After the recent passage of House Bill 2707 that allows youth to be held in juvenile detention centers rather than adult jails while awaiting trial, the Campaign for Youth Justice and the Partnership for Safety and Justice released a report outlining the reasons Oregon should reassess its policies relating to Measure 11.
Measure 11 was originally marketed to Oregon voters as a way to deal with the state’s most serious youth offenders, but according to the report, the law hasn’t made Oregon any safer and has proven to have a detrimental impact on kids who commit less serious crimes. The study shows us that there are better ways to curb delinquency and increase the likelihood of young offenders becoming productive members of society.
In November of 1994, Oregon voters created new mandatory minimum sentences for a total of 16 crimes and required that teens charged with those crimes be tried as adults in the form of Measure 11. Those crimes included assault, arson, rape, kidnapping, manslaughter, robbery, sexual abuse, and murder. The state’s legislature followed suit and added even more crimes to the list. Today, the law requires youth who are 15 and older and charged with one of 21 crimes to be prosecuted automatically in the adult criminal justice system. If convicted of that crime, they are required to serve mandatory sentences usually reserved for adults. For instance, a conviction of robbery carries a minimum sentence of 70 months, regardless of age.
While serious crime rates have declined since the passing of Measure 11, no pattern can be determined that links the two. The report found that the counties with increases in youth convictions due to Measure 11 failed to see improvements in public safety. It is also important to note that often those charged with Measure 11 offenses aren’t actually convicted of crimes that fall within the scope of the measure. In many cases teens receive adult probation when sentenced and are released back into the community, forever carrying the stigma that comes along with an adult conviction. With the unemployment rate for 16-24 year olds sitting at 42.6% in Oregon, Measure 11 is only putting these youth at a severe disadvantage. How can we ever expect them to become productive citizens if they are unable to find jobs because of an adult record that must be shared with employers?
Rehabilitation through the juvenile system seems to be a more efficient way to deal with these youth and to reduce the likelihood of reoffending, explains the report. For example, studies show that those who commit sex crimes are less likely to reoffend following adjudication and treatment, yet nearly half (47%) of Measure 11 indictments of white youth were for sex offenses. It makes sense to rehabilitate cases such as these outside of the adult system where teens can receive specialized treatment. This is hindered further by the fact that nine out of 10 youth indicted for a Measure 11 offense, in the name of speedy prosecution, aren’t even afforded the opportunity to stand in front of an impartial judge who can provide appropriate sentencing which addresses the needs of the victim, the community and the offender.
Another missed opportunity associated with the Measure is the chance for youth to take advantage of the “Second Look” law that gives those charged with crimes a chance to serve the second half of their sentences out in the community. This important incentive for early release is restricted to those crimes not covered by Measure 11.
While the passage of House Bill 2707 is a great step forward, it is time for Oregon to reassess its policies that ultimately end with youth being fed into the adult criminal justice system. It is clear that there are many costs associate with Measure 11, and the result: a community that isn’t any safer.
Christopher Brahim is a social and digital media intern at Prichard Communications. He graduated from Washington State University with a degree in Marketing.
*Photo at top by Flickr user N!(K -- loveforphotography --
Updated: February 08 2018