Media Room

REMARKS AS PREPARED

Governor Kate Brown
Justice Reinvestment Summit
Thursday, February 14, 2019


Happy Valentine’s Day, Happy 160th birthday to Oregon!

Thank you so much for having me here today. I’d like to thank Judge Waller and county leadership. And I’d especially like to thank Mike Schmidt, Tiffany Quintero, and the rest of the staff at CJC, who have worked so hard to make today’s event possible.

As Governor, I’ve spent a lot of time meeting Oregonians from across the state. I hear from families who struggle with all kinds of issues. I hear so many stories that would have had a completely different ending if they had just one ounce of prevention.

I’m grateful to you all for bringing your various viewpoints together to do just that.

Everyone here today knows that between 2000 and 2010, in just a short ten-year span, our prison rate increased by 50 percent. As our inmate rolls grew, so did our corrections budget.

Change came fast and it came hard.

We knew it would take more than ten years to reverse that trend. But in the decade since, we’re making progress on changing that trajectory. I’d like to reflect on the steps that brought us here.

In 2013, my predecessor signed House Bill 3194 into law, creating the Justice Reinvestment Program in Oregon. 

Almost immediately, counties like Marion, Lane, and Multnomah began the hard work of decreasing their prison usage, while keeping their communities safe. The reductions by those and other counties have saved the state from building a new prison. I am deeply grateful for your efforts.

We haven’t completely avoided growth. In fact, a few years ago we were very concerned about opening a new facility to house our women’s population.

The women of the Legislature were appalled and absolutely opposed.

The answer was House Bill 3078. Since that time our female prison population has decreased by almost 100 offenders, averting the need to open an additional facility. If our forecasts hold, we will not have to consider opening additional facilities for years to come, and that is very good news.

Although not strictly a JRI initiative, I want to also take a moment to talk about another bill that I signed in 2017—House Bill 2355. As most of you in this room know, HB 2355 reduced some Possession of a Controlled Substance crimes to misdemeanors. We did that because data showed people of color were disproportionately affected by the enforcement of this felony.

It’s early, but in the first year after passage, we saw felony convictions drop by two thousand. Racial disparity around Possession of Controlled Substances was decreased for black Oregonians by eighty percent.

Not that I need to give you homework, but I would encourage everyone here to read the CJC report. It highlights the issue of how we are keeping people out of the cycle of a felony conviction and its many collateral consequences.

We are now addressing addiction as a health issue instead of a criminal one. If you want more homework, I would also urge you to follow along with my Opioids Task Force legislation, House Bill 2257, which is focused on this approach.

And while the “big” counties and sweeping legislative initiatives rightly get a lot of the credit for the reduction in numbers, smaller communities around the state are making an impact too.

In Josephine County, the District Attorney’s Office and Community Corrections have worked closely to identify offenders who can be safely supervised locally using evidence-based tools to assess risks and needs. They have expanded their capacity for housing, treatment in the community, and secure treatment in custody. As a result, Josephine County has reduced prison sentences and increased access to treatment and services for people convicted of property and drug crimes. Kudos to District Attorney Mulkins, who is in the audience today, and community corrections director Nate Gaoiran.

In Deschutes County, after receiving an evidence-based assessment, clients receive intensive supervision, housing resources, treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy, and access to resources that help break down barriers that keep them from meeting their supervision obligations.  The number of people successfully completing supervision has increased as a result of this project. Therefore fewer folks are going to prison.

Of course, no undertaking of this size and scope would happen without its fair share of growing pains, and we’ve seen some of that here.

There are counties who will have received JRI grants for six years this July who have not managed to change the way they use prison.

As a matter of fundamental fairness, I want resources to go to those communities who are truly participating. I have asked the CJC to evaluate whether it makes sense to continue funding counties who have not managed to bend the curve of prison consumption after six years of investments.

It is also worth noting that as our community corrections officers around the state are asked to supervise more medium- and high-risk offenders under JRI, our recidivism rates have remained flat.

To me, that means JRI does not reduce safety in our communities, and that’s a good thing.

However, we are investing a sizeable amount of money into these programs that is above and beyond the baseline funding model. My budget allocates $46 million towards JRI. We need to reduce recidivism rates.

We should be thoroughly mining the data to understand why folks are unsuccessful and re-offending.

Let’s continue to develop innovative programs that make our communities even safer. And let’s ensure our offenders are more productive when they leave our system, hopefully never to return.

In Norway, citizens believe that offenders are their “future neighbors.” Everyone sees their reform as an investment. 

We know that when we make meaningful change in behavioral health treatment and addiction recovery, we lift a burden off our prisons, our hospitals, and our law enforcement.

With your hard work—and your help—we can continue to better address the needs of adults involved in the criminal justice system. Making them better neighbors for all Oregonians.

Thank you.