You may have seen the article in today’s Oregonian about the recommendations ofOregon’s Commission on Public Safety, a group appointed by Governor Kitzhaber (following up on the work begun by Governor Kulongoski and his deputy Chief of Staff Tim Nesbitt in the 2010 “Reset” report).

According to the Oregonian, there are several recommendations in the Commission’s report aimed at getting better public safety outcomes for the dollars we spend on corrections including:

  • Reform sentencing to slow prison growth, avoiding a predicted 2,000 more inmates.
  • Use savings from trimming the prison population to combat recidivism, and spend more to ready inmates for freedom.
  • Bolster programs to help crime victims, particularly those of domestic and sexual assaults.
  • Use more cost-benefit analyses to sharply direct spending.
  • Better assess risks and needs of offenders at sentencing, shaping punishment to individuals. Give judges, now restricted by minimum sentences, more discretion.
  • Give Oregonians more information about crime to foster support for more cost-effective sentences.
  • Extend the commission’s work until July 2013, and add members representing sheriffs, police chiefs, district attorneys, defense attorneys, victim advocates, judges, and addiction and mental health experts.

This provides a good reason to review the Oregon Business Plan initiative on Corrections reform. The Business Plan supports the work of the Commission because Corrections costs are out of control and gobbling up Oregon’s ability to invest in education.  The Public Safety page on our website has lots of good information about trends in corrections spending and outcomes. One of my favorites has to do with the diminishing returns of corrections investments. According to ECONorthwest, when voters passed Ballot Measure 11 in 1994, each $1 of prison spending yielded an average $2.78 in benefits, preventing pain, suffering, and losses associated with crime. But as incarceration has spread to less serious offenders, the benefits have declined to only 91 cents for every additional dollar spent.

Oregon can’t afford these kind of results.  We should invest in the things that work best and free up the remaining dollars for education and other critical programs.