Senator Doug Whitsett's Newsletter

Doug Whitsett

Public safety is arguably the single most important function of government. Anything else that officials hope to accomplish at the local, state, and federal level is contingent upon citizens being safe in their own homes and communities. Nothing is more important than being able to live our lives without fear of becoming victimized by criminals.

The criminal justice system has many interrelated components. They include adequate staffing levels for law enforcement agencies, a court system that is properly funded to adjudicate those cases, prisons with sufficient capacity to house the most dangerous and violent offenders, and programs necessary to assist offenders, who have paid their debt to society, in integrating back into our communities. All of these components cost money.

Prior to the start of the 2013 legislative session, the state’s prison population was projected to grow by an additional 1,000 inmates over a four-year period. This projected growth would have necessitated the re-opening of part of a facility in Madras in 2014 and the opening of a new prison in Junction City in 2017.

In response to that prison population growth, lawmakers adopted House Bill 3194-A during the 2013 Legislative Assembly. That bill was designed to flatten the projected increase in the prison population by changing the sentencing guidelines for various felonies. The guidelines for some of those sentences had been established by voters through the passage of Measure 57 in the November 2008 general election.

HB 3194-A altered the penalties for certain drug-related crimes and driving while suspended or revoked, and sentencing guidelines were changed for third-degree robbery and identity theft. The cost savings resulting from the bill were intended to be dedicated to Community Corrections at the county level to fund programs aimed at reducing recidivism.

According to the fiscal impact statement issued for HB 3194-A, the measure was expected to result in the reduced need for 700 prison beds during the 2013-15 budget period and 850 beds by 2017. Another stated purpose was to delay the need for opening additional permanent beds at the Shutter Creek and Deer Ridge correctional institutions.

The steps taken in the measure were anticipated to provide $70 million in General Fund savings for the Department of Corrections (DOC). Those savings were dedicated to increasing funding for local Communication Corrections programs. 

Those projected savings were enough to ensure that HB 3194-A passed the House on a 40-18 vote and the Senate 19-11.

There were multiple reasons why I voted against that 2013 bill. I believe the bill went too far in reducing sentences for certain crimes related to the sale and distribution of dangerous drugs. Moreover, I did not share proponents’ optimism that the projected cost savings resulting from the measure would ever materialize in meaningful ways for local correction officials.

I was concerned that the potential savings calculations were overstated by the DOC and leery of the possible pitfalls in counting on avoided costs to produce those dollars. Further, I have served long enough in the Senate to understand that money that becomes available to the General Fund can easily be redirected towards other programs and needful things.

Since the passage of HB 3194-A, the state’s prison population has leveled off. It is further projected to decrease slightly for the next two years. The former governor’s recommended budget for 2015-17 recognized $58 million in “savings” and directed that revenue to local Community Corrections programs.

However, the budget prepared by the Co-Chairs of the Ways and Means Committee took a different approach. The Co-Chairs have tentatively reduced those appropriations to Community Corrections to only $20 million.

The entire basis for HB 3194-A was to alter sentencing guidelines enough to generate sufficient funding to support the evidence-based practices that Community Corrections professionals know will reduce recidivism. Reduced recidivism is expected to result in fewer prison inmates. Fewer prison inmates are expected to reduce DOC costs sufficiently to continue to fund the Community Correction programs that reduce recidivism.

The Co-Chairs’ proposed budget appears to undo this expected positive feedback mechanism. Community Corrections had planned for the additional $70 million expected from the savings generated by HB 3194-A to pay for their programs. The actual savings from the correction changes only reached $58 million. The Co-Chairs’ proposed budget further reduces the planned-for Community Corrections revenue by $38 million. The $20 million proposed by the Co-Chairs only amounts about 28 percent of the $70 million that was originally expected.

Legislators are now being lobbied by those local officials to pass Senate Bill 5506. This is being referred to as “justice reinvestment,” and is intended to include adequate funding for victims services, specialty courts and other programs that could be useful for reducing the long-term financial burdens associated with incarcerating criminals through decreases in recidivism and other means.

I am not alone in hoping that projected savings will result in actual dollars being received at the local level. Written testimony in support of SB 5506 was provided by the Oregon Business Association, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, the Association of Oregon Community Mental Health Programs, the League of Women Voters, the Oregon Law Center, the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police and Oregon State Sheriffs' Association, the Partnership for Safety and Justice, the Center for Hope & Safety, the Tri-County Domestic & Sexual Violence Intervention Network and others.

We ultimately need our criminal justice system to meet its intended purpose of keeping our streets safe by functioning in the most cost-effective way possible. Allocating the projected savings resulting from HB 3194-A to Community Corrections will serve that purpose.

Currently, the Co-Chairs are planning to use about $38 million of those funds for other purposes. I believe their proposed action would be a huge disservice to Oregonians. Reducing funding to Community Corrections will only serve to weaken our very important criminal justice system. We must do everything we can to ensure that does not happen.

Please remember--if we do not stand up for rural Oregon, no one will.


Best Regards,



Senate District 28


Email: I Phone: 503-986-1728

Address: 900 Court St NE, S-311, Salem, OR, 97301



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