Lincoln County has been getting smarter on crime these past few years. But that progress is being threatened.
The county is in danger of losing more than $500,000 a year in state funds designed to help offenders make a successful reentry into the community. Ian Davidson, Program manager for the Criminal Justice Commission, made a presentation to the County Commissioners at our April 20th meeting to explain why.
In 2013, the Oregon Legislature realized the state was opening new prison beds at an unsustainable rate and in a bipartisan move, approved the Justice Reinvestment Act, which directed counties to reduce the number of people going to prison for non-violent crimes: drug, property and driving-related. In exchange, the counties receive yearly Justice Reinvestment (JRI) funding to develop programming to slow down the jail to prison pipeline. Time and time again it’s been proven that sending people to prison doesn’t reduce crime or improve community safety.
The program, administered by the Criminal Justice Commission (CJC) has worked at the state level. The Junction City prison never opened, and two other prisons have been closed.
However, since at least 2015, Lincoln County has been using prison for these non-violent offenses at a rate higher that the state targets. In other words, we’re crossing the do not cross line by charging and sending too many people to prison for drug crimes. Only our prosecutors and judges can change this.
Although we’ve continued to receive JRI money, we’re now in danger of losing those dollars. Instead of the usual two-year contract, they’ve only made a provisional one-year award for the coming fiscal year and is requiring the county to make a separate application for the second year.
What do these funds pay for? Three staff positions in our TIDES houses, which help people get their feet back under themselves after exiting jail or prison. There’s also a position supervised by the District Attorney’s office who works out of Community Corrections; their focus is on reducing use of prisons.
When the people of Lincoln County had the chance to take a stand on whether people should be locked up for drug crimes, their answer was a strong no. Ballot Measure 110 reduced most possession charges to a fine. The measure passed by an almost 60 percent yes vote statewide and here locally as well.
A team of policy makers and people with boots on the ground have been working together in our county for the past few years on diversion and transitional services for people who are engaged with the justice system primarily due to drug and mental health issues. We’ve got some pieces in place, but don’t have a fully network of services available at the level they’re needed. We need to build on that effort, and not go back to failed past practices.
One of the local law enforcement officials who has been a strong supporter of this effort said it’s not getting soft on crime. It’s getting smart on crime. I agree. This approach is our best route to a stronger, safer, healthier community.
Claire Elizabeth Hall
Lincoln County Commissioner