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March 27, 2019

Oregon’s Senate Judiciary Committee will hear four key reforms in a March 28 public hearing

PORTLAND, Ore. — The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon released new public opinion polling today that shows consensus support for youth justice reform across the ideological and political spectrum in Oregon.

The research, conducted by GBAO (formerly GBA Strategies) between March 7 -10, included 600 telephone interviews with registered voters in Oregon. An overwhelming majority of Oregonians - 88 percent -  want the youth justice system to focus on prevention and rehabilitation more than punishment and incarceration, including 80 percent of Republicans, 87 percent of Independents, and 96 percent of Democrats.

The poll found Oregonians strongly favor several reforms to the state’s youth justice system, including expanding access to Second Look hearings, making the default placement of youth the juvenile justice system rather than the adult justice system, and ending life without the chance of parole for youth.

“Oregonians across the political spectrum understand that young people have a great ability to grow and change,” said david rogers, executive director of ACLU of Oregon. “This a call to action for the Oregon Legislature to shift to what we know works with youth. Treatment and education programs, not prisons, are the best way to help youth make better choices, stay on a path towards success, and get back on track when they need help.”

A 2017 Centers for Disease Control study found that youth prosecuted in adult court are 34 percent more likely to commit additional crimes upon release than those in the youth justice system. Rogers said that placing youth in the youth justice system keeps our communities safer and is better for those young people.

Tomorrow, the Oregon Senate Judiciary Committee holds a public hearing on these proposed youth justice system reforms:

  • SB 969 places youth accused of any crimes in the youth justice system instead of the adult justice system. To move a youth to the adult justice system, prosecutors would need to request a special hearing with a judge who would decide where youth are placed. 81 percent of Oregonians support this proposal.
  • SB 1008 establishes a process where all youth who are convicted in adult court have access to a "Second Look" hearing half way through their sentence. At that hearing, a judge determines whether the youth has taken responsibility for their crime and been rehabilitated, which would allow the remainder of their sentence to be served under community-based supervision, rather than being incarcerated. 80 percent of Oregonians support this proposal.
  • SB 966 would require an additional review before a youth with a long sentence would be transferred to an adult prison. Currently, Oregon youth who are given long sentences can stay in a youth prison until age twenty-five and are then transferred to an adult prison. This proposal would allow a judge to determine if the twenty-five-year old has been sufficiently rehabilitated to transfer them to community-based supervision, rather than adult prison. 77 percent of Oregonians support this proposal. 
  • SB 968 would eliminate life without parole sentences for youth in Oregon by establishing a process to ensure that anyone convicted of a crime when they are under eighteen years old receives a chance for parole after fifteen years of incarceration. 61 percent of Oregonians support this proposal.

The ACLU of Oregon is part of a broad coalition of organizations urging the Oregon legislature to act on these widely-supported proposals. Members of the coalition will be testifying at the 8 a.m. hearing tomorrow in Salem.

“Justice and accountability are opportunities to heal, not just to punish youth,” said Shannon Wight, deputy director of Partnership for Safety and Justice. “When youth cause harm, we should provide them with the best chance to repair the damage they've caused, while also healing their own trauma and getting them the help they need. These bills are an effective way to improve our youth justice system, and we urge legislators to pass them.”

A copy of the topline memo can be found here: https://aclu-or.org/sites/default/files/or_youth_justice_reform_poll_memo_march_2019.pdf.

More information about the bills is online here: https://aclu-or.org/sites/default/files/youth_justice_aclu_v2_public.pdf.

The Centers for Disease Control Study is online here: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5609a1.htm.

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