Fortunately for Oregonians, it can be difficult to keep secrets in Salem. Thus, news that state lawmakers might be asked to reduce prisons sentences next year was leaked to The Oregonian, despite Gov. Kate Brown’s attempts to keep the matter secret.
In fact, Brown asked state agencies to keep their proposals for the 2019 session of the Legislature secret until after the election.
Usually, legislative concepts, as they’re called, are made public by the end of October.
You may draw your own conclusions about why Brown chose secrecy, but the fact remains: Secrecy and good government do not go hand in hand.
Oregon went through a serious round of prison reform in 2013. Lawmakers reduced the sentences for some property crimes, let some low-risk offenders leave prison early and put money into community corrections programs that would deal with some offenders at the county level.
Statewide discussion of the cost of the prison system and ways to contain its growth began at least two years before the 2013 Legislature acted.
There were newspaper stories about the money required to keep up with prison population growth and how many more prisons would be needed as a result. Others centered on whether the state’s incarceration policies, heavy on keeping offenders out of jail, worked.
We’ve had almost none of that in 2018, or in 2017. Nor do we know exactly what’s being proposed, or why. We do know some things.
Oregon and its counties spend a higher percentage of revenues on corrections than most states, and that’s, in part, because we lock up more juvenile offenders than most states do.
It may be that Oregon’s corrections system is, again, ripe for reform. If so, Oregonians need to know what’s wrong and why what is being considered will improve the situation. More importantly, we need to be part of any discussion about proposed changes and that discussion needs to begin now, not after the Legislature convenes.