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What Works in Public Safety Conference (Jan. 11, 2013)

​Prepared Remarks

Good morning and thank you. It is my pleasure to be with you today to help kick off this conference: “What Works in Public Safety: Justice Reinvestment in Action.” This annual conference is an outgrowth of the robust and engaged Local Public Safety Coordinating Council here in Multnomah County.

My thanks to County Chair Jeff Cogen and Commissioner Judy Shiprack for hosting us all. I also want to thank the Criminal Justice Commission and the Citizens Crime Commission for co-sponsoring this event and helping to convene our partners in the business community on public safety issues.

Just like the LPSCC model itself, we gather today with the full understanding that our public safety system is shared across city, county and state partners. This year the conference will discuss the work and findings of the 2012 Commission on Public Safety and the topic of Justice Reinvestment in Action.

I convened the Commission by Executive Order in May 2012 with the support and key engagement of leaders from the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches. The Commission’s findings saw that there is much that is right with our public safety system. Oregon is well known for our data-driven policies and evidenced-based practices that protect public safety, hold offenders accountable, reduce recidivism, and control corrections costs. And our success is a direct result of the dedication of the diverse public safety professionals here today and across the state.

At the same time, we know so much more about what works to prevent crime than we did 20 to 40 years ago. Not unlike our emergency rooms in health care, prison is our most expensive option in public safety, and should be reserved for those offenders who need it most. There are cost effective investments in community corrections, victim services, and law enforcement that can help us to relieve our reliance on this expensive option by lowering recidivism and preventing crime from occurring in the first place.

In Oregon, we know this because this is the state that pioneered many of these cost-effective alternatives and our success in community corrections is one of the reasons we have kept our incarceration rate below the national average and one of the reasons why we have achieved one of the lowest recidivism rates in the nation.

Let me be very clear. We need prisons in Oregon. No one is talking about dismantling our prison system; rather, we are talking about putting the entire public safety system on a more sustainable path using justice reinvestment principles.

In the last decade, we have wavered from our strategy of focusing prison space on those offenders who need it most. We have gradually widened our prison net to include more low-risk and more nonviolent offenders, and we have gradually increased the length of sentences for these offenders.

As a result, our prison population has grown by 50 percent since 2000. These trends have come at enormous cost to the state and have made it very hard to continue to fund those other aspects of the public safety system—sheriff’s departments, community corrections, drug treatment, and mental health services—that we know to be so essential to safe communities.

We are at a crossroads: more growth means opening closed prisons and even building an entirely new facility. If the Legislature does not act, the state’s prison growth will require an additional 2,300 beds—dedicated mostly to nonviolent offenders—at a cost of more than $600 million over the next decade.

The data is clear on this: the prison-building path is very expensive and far less effective in delivering public safety for our citizens. So we stand at a critical decision point where we need to ask: Is building more prisons the best or the most cost-effective way to improve public safety?

This isn’t just saving money for other priority areas. We have to remember that the state budget is a zero-sum proposition. As Oregon taxpayers dedicate more of their funds to prison, other critical public safety areas go under-supported.

Oregon State Police and the Oregon Youth Authority cannot bear the burden of an unsustainable system. We need to invest in Oregon’s public safety in a more balanced, more effective fashion. By concentrating the most expensive corrections option – prison beds – on the serious and violent offenders that deserve it most and re-investing a portion of those dollars into the local law enforcement, victim services, and community corrections providers that are so critical to preventing crime and keeping our communities safe, Oregon can get a better return on its public safety investment.

This shift in resources was reflected in my budget last month. In anticipation of the proposals from the bipartisan and inter-branch Commission on Public Safety, I built a budget that assumes we can avert much of the projected biennial prison growth and I proposed redirecting those savings – some $40 million – into local public safety.

I am sure many of you have reviewed the Commission on Public Safety’s proposals in their final report. I was impressed and encouraged by the common sense, data-driven policy proposals in that document. Taken together, the Commission’s policies provide a clear roadmap for the legislature that will avert the 10-year prison growth and allow for investments in critical local public safety priorities. This is the course that I support. It allows us to make our state safer by investing in the local public safety system and avoids spending hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 10 years.

These are critical issues that often evoke strong feelings and heated rhetoric, but it is my hope that the discussion will continue to be based in data and in research. We cannot make policy by anecdote. We have to summon the courage to look beyond any parade of the horrible and engage in sound policymaking, not salacious sound bites.

I’m confident that the work of the Commission will find broad support in the Legislature. Representatives Olson and Garrett and Senators Winters and Prozanski have taken real leadership in this effort. They deserve our thanks. Before the holidays, legislative leadership announced a Special Joint Committee on Public Safety to take up the work of the Commission on Public Safety. I expect this to be a bipartisan legislative effort much like our successful efforts in healthcare and education in recent years.

I also want to thank all of the Commission members for their time and efforts. I especially want to highlight former Chief Justice Paul De Muniz, who you will hear from next, for his service as Commission Chair. You may know that he retired as on Monday and we’ve kept him working up through the end.

Again – thank you for all of your commitment to public safety. Although I cannot stay, I look forward to hearing about the conference discussions today and to all of your participation in the ongoing dialogue with the legislature on public safety policy.

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