Oregon prosecutors propose reducing prison time for drugs

OREGON CITY, Ore. (AP) — Prosecutors who have resisted changes in Oregon's voter-approved mandatory minimum sentencing are proposing an alternative that includes reducing marijuana terms so that most offenders wouldn't go to prison.

The proposal outlined Tuesday at an Oregon City news conference would also reduce presumptive sentences for other drug distribution offenses.

The prosecutors are responding to a package presented by a public safety commission that Gov. John Kitzhaber asked to make budget-cutting proposals.

The commission proposed rolling back some sentences voters approved in Measures 11 and Measure 57 in order to save an estimated $600 million over the next 10 years in projected prison growth.

The prosecutors said their plan would generate the needed savings, but others said it wouldn't.

The Legislature hasn't enacted a package in the current session, and most of the discussions have occurred behind closed doors.

The prosecutors' recommendations avoid changes to Measure 11 sentencing guidelines, Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote said. The mandatory minimums were approved in 1994.

The district attorneys wouldn't change sentences for selling marijuana to children or within 1,000 feet of a school.

They propose removing marijuana, cocaine, heroin and ecstasy drug distribution offenses from Measure 57 of 2008, and replacing that measure's minimum mandatory sentences with discretionary sentencing guidelines in place in 2008. On average, they said, Measure 57 sentences for those crimes are 5 months longer.

"Left to our own devices, we would not suggest taking drug offenses out of Measure 57, but that's not the environment we're facing," Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill said.

The district attorneys said they oppose legalizing marijuana but recognize that Oregon voters might approve it next year. "So we need to get ahead of this," the association said in a prepared statement.

Among other proposals, the prosecutors called for cutting the cost of housing inmates and dedicating the savings — $40 million over two years — to programs to keep offenders from going back to prison.

Craig Prins, executive director of the state Criminal Justice Commission, said parts of the district attorneys' plan are in line with bills under consideration, but it would leave Oregon with a prison population estimated at 15,376 after a decade, above Kitzhaber's goal of 14,600.

Kitzhaber is open to discussions, said spokesman Tim Raphael. "For the governor, this has never been a debate about ballot measures or a single approach," Raphael said.

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Information from: Statesman Journal, http://www.statesmanjournal.com

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press