The state of Oregon is well known for being a liberal state. This includes the efforts of Portland officials to remain supportive of illegal immigrants and their status as a sanctuary city. A move this week in the form of a new law that takes a hard stance on repeat sex offenders was surprising in the liberal state; it seems this may be one area Oregon law makers take a non-wavering stance on.
In some states, they depend on a three strikes guide for repeat offenders. Once one hits three of the same or similar offenses, it translates into a life sentence. In Oregon, things have gotten even tougher for repeat sex offenders as they have dropped three strikes to just two. According to a recent report about the new law:
“Senate Bill 1050 imposes presumptive sentences for those convicted of first-degree rape, first-degree sodomy or first-degree unlawful sexual penetration if the defendant has been previously convicted of those crimes or an equivalent federal offense.
It also gives judges latitude to impose lighter sentences based on “substantial and compelling reasons.”
Senate Bill 1050 passed the House with a 58-0 vote and the Oregon Senate with a 30-0. With this voting record, it is clear that state law makers are ready to take a harder stance on sex offenders re-offending. Even as the bill becomes law, it is not clear how the judge’s ability to give criminals a lighter sentence will play out. This is the same state that witnessed a judge using her chambers to sneak an illegal immigrant out of court to avoid being arrested, so it might be too much to expect that all of the justices in the state will respect this new law.
Whether or not the judges in the state follow this new law, it was put into effect with the public safety in mind. As Senate President Peter Courtney explained:
“This bill will finally get at protecting our community from the most dangerous of sexual criminals.
This type of criminal has haunted me for years— since I served on Gov. Barbara Roberts’ task force regarding sex abuse crimes. Hearing about these heinous crimes— many committed against children— really messed me up.”
Courtney has a long history of working diligently to strengthen the state laws surrounding sex offenses. This including working on six bills dating back to 1991. Unfortunately in the past when laws like this one came up for a vote they were not passed as many worried they went too far. There seems to be a shift away from this fear as the new bill passed without even a single no vote.
While those with voting power sent a strong message in support of the bill, there were those who opposed it. One such group included members of Oregon Voice, a non-profit formed to advocate for “rational sex offender policies” and also to rally support for ending mandatory sentences. As member Ken Nolley shared:
“I think all of us can feel the emotional pull of (Courtney’s) bill, because we share not only a revulsion for the crimes it addresses, but also a particular revulsion when we (see) these crimes repeated. Locking such people up in perpetuity may satisfy our sense of moral outrage, but it does not make good policy.”
One of the biggest complaints concerning this type of bill is that it may place an undue strain on the already taxed prison system. Jailing someone who is elderly is costly, and organizations like Oregon Voice often point to the fact that these older offenders often no longer pose a threat to society.
Whether holding someone for the rest of their life makes sense or not, there is lots of evidence that repeat offenders are a problem within Oregon. According to a recent report:
“The Criminal Justice Commission reviewed the Oregon Department of Corrections intake data from 2010 to 2016 and found 10 inmates with first-degree rape, sodomy or unlawful sexual penetration convictions who had previous serious sex crime convictions.
Currently, the people convicted of these crimes are sentenced to a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 25 years. The increased cost burden to the prison system would depend on an inmate’s life expectancy. According to a legislative fiscal impact report, total cost increases could be $1.6 million to $2.7 million per biennium.”