Criminal Justice

Poll: Oregonians strongly support reducing drug sentences

March 1, 2017 — Oregon voters overwhelmingly support a proposal to reduce penalties for drug possession, according to a new poll.

The poll comes as a new bill, Oregon HB 2355, supported by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon (ACLU of Oregon,) would change small-scale drug possession to a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

“The war on drugs has failed,” said David Rogers, the executive director of the ACLU of Oregon. “It has damaged families and cost taxpayers billions of dollars. A felony conviction for small-scale drug use is too harsh because it ruins people’s lives. Oregonians are ready for a smarter approach. This bill is our chance to win one, and we are going to do everything in our power to make sure it passes.” 



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New Laws Target and Punish the Poor in Oregon

By Heather Marek, Legal Intern

person with signJuly 27, 2016 - In recent years, poverty and homelessness have deepened throughout the country, and Oregon has not been immune. According to HUD, between 2014 and 2015, the number of homeless Oregonians increased nine percent, the third highest increase nationwide. In that same time, Oregon experienced the largest growth of any state in its chronically homeless population: sixty percent. Due to a severe shortage of affordable housing and the high number of residents with no place to call home, Oregon cities including Eugene and Portland have declared a housing and homelessness “state of emergency”.

In Oregon and elsewhere, the response to this crisis has been to further criminalize homelessness, making it against the law to engage in basic life-sustaining activities. Between 2011 and 2014, there was a spike in the number of cities nationwide that outlawed camping (60 percent), sleeping in vehicles (119 percent), sitting or lying down in particular places (43 percent), begging (25 percent), and loitering and vagrancy (35 percent). These laws have been the focus of national and international scrutiny, receiving condemnation by the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the UN Human Rights Committee.

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The Oregon DOJ Trains Agents on How to Break the Law

by Mat dos Santos, Legal Director

Mat dos Santos photoApril 13, 2016 - After about five months of waiting, the Oregon Department of Justice (“DOJ”) released its internal human resources investigation conducted by the special assistant attorney general looking into the surveillance of people on Twitter using #BlackLivesMatter. The report is damning. It paints an abysmal picture of rampant misinformation beginning with agents and analysts and running all the way up to the deputy attorney general, and shows how one mistake in judgment can lead to dangerous consequences for the public. 

If you’ve already read the report and exhibits, you know that the special assistant attorney general calls for changes in the DOJ's hiring to reflect a more diverse work force, as well as additional training on the laws DOJ agents broke when they collected information about the public’s political views. But you may have missed a critical piece of information that is buried near the very end of the over 150 pages of exhibits. DOJ’s very own training on this issue is fundamentally flawed. DOJ is teaching its agents how to break the law. 

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DOJ's Bubble of Bias

by David Rogers, Executive Director

public enemy logoApril 13, 2016 - The special assistant attorney general finally released the long awaited report on Oregon Department of Justice’s surveillance of people using the Black Lives Matter hashtag among others. The report and the 162 page appendix is disturbing and reveals a range of deeply troubling issues about the Criminal Justice Division of DOJ, so much so, that we decided we needed to tackle it in separate posts.

I want to take a moment to explore what we learned about the implications of law enforcement’s echo chamber of prejudice and shallow cultural knowledge.

You may have already seen the media delight in the fact that DOJ analysts mistook Public Enemy’s logo as a sign of an imminent threat to law enforcement. (Public Enemy was a hip hop group popular in the late 80s and 90s whose music infused commentary about the political and social experience of Black Americans. “Fear of a Black Planet” still stands as one of my top ten hip hop albums of all time.)

As the DOJ was illegally examining the Twitter feed of one their own employees snared in the DOJ’s electronic surveillance of people who used the Black Lives Matter hashtag in Salem, the agent saw the Public Enemy logo with words from one of their live albums: “Consider Yourselves Warned!!!” Apparently, this image stood out along with a range of other satirical, political cartoons, and images even though these images are easily found on social media sites belonging to hundreds of thousands of reasonably politicized People of Color. The next thing that happened was a threat assessment report was written and went all the way to the desk of Oregon’s attorney general. Wait! What?

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Internal DOJ Report Leaves Us with More Questions than Answers on the Surveillance of Black Lives Matter in Oregon

by David Rogers

David Rogers photoYesterday a report on the surveillance of Black Lives Matter in Oregon was released by the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ). The report confirmed what we learned back in November: that an agent who works for the Criminal Division of DOJ was testing a surveillance program, called Digital Stakeout, by searching various key words, including #BlackLivesMatter. The agent then mistook posts from DOJ’s own director of civil rights, including a post of a Public Enemy logo and political cartoons, as a threat to law enforcement and wrote a memo that was passed all the way up the chain of command to Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum before it was, finally, rejected as dangerous, racial profiling. The attorney general hired an outside attorney to conduct an independent investigation of the matter to determine if policies or laws were violated.

After reading through the report and looking through the exhibits, we are left with more questions than answers. I honestly don’t know whether to laugh or to cry at the lack of awareness that was revealed of both the law and of what might constitute a threat. This is not only shameful, but also dangerous. Given the power that they wield, I am dismayed at the state of the Criminal Justice Division and afraid for the Oregonians that are supposed to be protected by them. Self-reinforced bias, against protesters, black people, and who knows who else, has left the agency ill-equipped to do their job.

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On Marijuana, the Work Continues

By Ethan Nadelmann and David Rogers
This article originally appeared in the Portland Tribune

Marijuana foilage

It’s been a busy two years for marijuana policy in Oregon. Not so long ago Oregon was arresting or citing 14,000 people per year for marijuana crimes; now the state is on the cusp of a safe, well-regulated market for adult-use marijuana. The evolution of the cannabis industry and its growing diversity of products is fascinating, and important to regulate as responsibly as possible, but Oregonians need to stay focused on reforming the costly and broken criminal justice system.

Oregon’s Measure 91 was rightly called “the new Gold Standard” of marijuana law reform bills even before voters approved it, with 56% of the vote, on Election Day 2014. What most appealed to voters, according to polling, were the criminal justice reform aspects of the initiative. Even though Oregon had led the nation in 1973 by decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, thousands of people were still being arrested each year for marijuana infractions. Oregonians clearly wanted to put a stop to that.

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Democracy, Prosecutors and Criminal Justice Reform

By Executive Director David Rogers

There are some serious problems we need to tackle in our criminal justice system, like dramatic prison growth and spending in the U.S. We are dumping billions of dollars into locking people up while ignoring the strategies best designed to create safe and healthy communities. Meanwhile, the racial disparity in sentencing and incarceration rates is one of the biggest drivers of inequality for communities of color in the country.

As Oregon’s legislative session just ended, I am pleased to see meaningful progress being made on criminal justice reform. The ACLU of Oregon was active in passing legislation to tackle racial profiling, reducing employment barriers for people with conviction histories, and helping to increase police accountability. This progress was the result of democracy in action: thousands of our members and allies reaching out to their legislators to advocate for smarter justice.

But there is an element of our democratic process that is seriously malnourished and it has a direct relationship to our ability shift criminal justice policies in the right direction. I’m talking about the election of District Attorneys.

Here in Oregon, our chief prosecutors in each county are elected by a vote of the people. Yet the public doesn’t normally engage District Attorneys as elected leaders who need to be held accountable to the values we hold about what a fair, unbiased, and smart criminal justice system looks like. This dynamic needs to change.

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Criminalization of Marijuana Comes to an End in Oregon

By Executive Director David Rogers

On July 1, 2015, the possession and use of marijuana by adults over 21 years of age becomes legal in Oregon. With the passage of Measure 91 last November, the voters of Oregon sent a clear message that it is time to end the criminalization of marijuana.

Oregon has been at the forefront of marijuana reform in America. In 1973, Oregon was the first state to decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana; was one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana in 1998 and will now become one of the first states to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana for adult use. And the ACLU of Oregon was influential in bringing about each of these reforms because the War on Marijuana has been a dismal and costly failure.

The aggressive enforcement of marijuana possession laws needlessly ensnares hundreds of thousands of people into the criminal justice system and wastes billions of taxpayers’ dollars nationwide. We are at a tipping point in regard to public recognition that the war on drugs is a failed strategy.

Today, we were pleased to join with Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, New Approach Oregon executive director Anthony Johnson, and parent advocate Leah Maurer, to discuss how Oregon is helping to lead the country in developing smarter and more just drug policies. And, legalization of marijuana in Oregon is, in fact, about justice.

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What's Ahead for Legalized Marijuana?

By Andrew Thomson, Lane County Chapter board member

On Tuesday, November 4, 2014, Oregon voters approved Measure 91, ending decades of marijuana prohibition in Oregon and legalizing the cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana for adults 21 and over. This is a significant and important step on the road to repairing the damage done by the failed war on marijuana.

Beginning January 4, 2016, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission will begin reviewing applications for licensed retail outlets. Taxes from the sales of marijuana will fund the schools, public health, and law enforcement. Marijuana sales will contribute funds to these important services rather than the diversion of funds caused by enforcing prohibition.

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Strong Mandate for Marijuana Reform Means Decriminalization Should Start Now

By Legislative Director Becky Straus

An edited version of this piece appeared in the Eugene Register Guard

Oregonians spoke loud and clear this election when they approved with over 55% of the vote Measure 91 to legalize, tax and regulate recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over. Higher tallies posted in Lane County and up and down the coast, and reached up to 71% support for the measure in Multnomah County.

We should interpret these numbers as a strong mandate: the War on Marijuana has failed and Oregonians reject prohibition. It is time for a new approach that focuses on eliminating the black market and the racial disparity in marijuana enforcement, on regulating the industry and on raising revenue for priorities like education, drug treatment and public safety.

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