House passes public safety package

Lauren Gambino / The Associated Press /

Published Jun 28, 2013 at 05:00AM

SALEM — The Oregon House approved a scaled-back plan aimed at curbing the state’s growing prison population Thursday.

“Today marks a victory in the ongoing effort to craft public safety policy based on the evidence about what works best to keep communities safe,” said Rep. Andy Olson, an Albany Republican and former Oregon State Police lieutenant.

The bill, which passed 40-18, would loosen certain criminal sentencing laws in an effort to hold Oregon’s inmate population at 14,600 over the next five years. Oregon is currently housing 14,500 offenders in its state prisons.

Among other changes, the measure would reduce sentences established in 2008 for certain drug and property crimes. It would lower penalties for some driving with a suspended license and marijuana-related charges. These policy changes would expire after 10 years.

Other provisions would allow probation officers to modify the conditions of probation, and would allow a reduction in length of supervision if the offender complies with the terms of probation. The bill would also establish a fund for counties that participate in programs aimed at driving down recidivism and keeping people out of prison.

The bill makes modest reforms to criminal sentencing laws compared with an initial proposal that called for repealing mandatory minimum sentences for three violent crimes. Amid strong opposition from the state’s district attorneys, sheriffs and police chiefs, the bill was significantly pared down.

The latest version of the bill succeeded in bringing key law enforcement groups on board.

It now heads to the Senate floor.