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OREGON'S GET TOUGH SENTENCING REFORM: A LESSON IN JUSTICE SYSTEM ADAPTATION

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Abstract:

Research Summary:

Oregon's Measure 11, a mandatory minimum sentencing policy passed in 1994, had fewer negative system impacts than had been anticipated by many state and local criminal justice administrators, due largely to the fact that prosecutors exercised the discretion provided them under the law to selectively prosecute cases. Consequently, fewer Measure 11-eligible cases were sentenced under the relevant statues than before passage of the measure, and more were sentenced to lesser related offenses. At the same time, incarceration rates and sentence lengths increased for both Measure 11 and lesser related offenses. Trial rates increased for two years after Measure 11 took effect before reverting to previous levels. Policy Implications:

The “unintended consequences” that Measure 11 produced should not have been unexpected. Our research indicates that the entire system will quickly adapt to mitigate the more draconian outcomes predicted by those who assume a simplistic implementation, which underscores the importance of understanding system dynamics and inter-relationships before implementing reform, as well as the pitfalls of designing legislation for either symbolic appeal or formal logic rather than for actual effect.

Keywords: Mandatory Minimums; Prosecutorial Discretion; Sentencing Reform; “Get Tough” Sentencing

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-9133.2006.00110.x

Publication date: February 1, 2006

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