ACLU Report Found Many Oregon District Attorneys Lack Basic Standards of Transparency

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Oregon House voted 34—24 to pass HB 3224 in response to a report released by the ACLU of Oregon earlier this month that found that at least 40 percent of Oregon’s district attorneys do not have internal written policies to guide their core work within the justice system.

“District attorneys are the most powerful actors in our criminal justice system and providing written policies that are accessible to the public should be a baseline expectation,” said david rogers, executive director the ACLU of Oregon. “This bill will require every district attorney office in the state to develop policies regarding the core function of their offices. Without a state requirement, too many DAs will continue to operate in the dark.”

The report, A Peek Behind the Curtain: Shining Some Light on District Attorney Policies in Oregon, is the result of more than two years of research by the ACLU of Oregon. Research began in November 2016, when the ACLU of Oregon submitted public records requests to all 36 of Oregon’s district attorney offices in order to better understand what policies shaped their work.

The legislation creates a basic standard for transparency and accountability for Oregon’s DA offices, requiring every district attorney to have written policies for the core functions of their office and make them available to the public.

“District Attorneys play a crucial role in our criminal justice system,” said Rep. Piluso, who sponsored HB 3224. “DAs make choices on a daily basis about who to charge and what they’re charged with; which offenders get access to treatment and diversion programs; which victims get access to services and support; and a thousand other small decisions that add up to whether our criminal justice system is fair to every Oregonian.”

“District attorneys and their staff make decision that deeply impact people’s lives,” rogers added. “Accessible written policies hold DAs and our justice system to a basic standard of accountability that is long overdue.”

Other key findings from the report:

  • Only 13 DA offices demonstrated that they have a meaningful set of written policies for the core functions of their office, providing at least some guidance about how they and their staff are handling their core duties as prosecutors in Oregon.
  • Eleven DA offices refused to respond to at least one of ACLU of Oregon’s requests for basic information and did so in direct violation of the state’s public records law.
  • While 40 percent of the district attorney offices acknowledged they have no internal written policies, this number may be higher because several offices didn’t respond at all.
  • Several district attorneys shared disbelief that office policies are actually needed, making the argument that the law provides a sufficient guide to their work.

“The House has voted in support of transparency and accountability,” added rogers. “Mandating basic and transparent policies for every DA office is an essential step towards modernizing our justice system and improving outcomes for Oregonians.”

The ACLU of Oregon recommends that every district attorney office in Oregon have a basic set of policies that guide its core functions. These policies serve many critical purposes including:

  • To ensure there is continuity to how staff in DA offices prosecute people.
  • To set standards for behavior and expectations on critical issues where there is no guiding law. 
  • To provide clarity of expectations and critical information for other justice system stakeholders, victims, defendants, and the public at large.
  • To create mechanisms of accountability for themselves and their staff to adhere to To clarify how a particular office will use its discretion based on the DA’s values, priorities, and understanding of the most effective public safety strategies. 

Full Report: The complete report can be found here.

Research Records: The ACLU of Oregon has made available every document from the research available to the public here.

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