A new Oregon bill is headed straight to the governor’s desk.
If passed, the bill would reclassify certain illicit drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor. The goal is to reduce the state’s prison population.The bill would also increase access to treatment for those without prior felonies or convictions for drug possessions, the Washington Post reports.
The bill would reduce penalties for possession of heroin, cocaine, meth and other illicit substances. The bill was already approved by the state legislature and now awaits the signature of the governor.
“We are trying to move policy towards treatment rather than prison beds,” said state Senator Jackie Winters, co-chair of the Public Safety Committee. “We can’t continue on the path of building more prisons when often the underlying root cause of the crime is substance use.”
Also included in the bill is a new initiative that will track the effects of law enforcement policies and procedures by collecting data on the demographic of Oregonians stopped by police. This initiative aims to identify any potential racist practices and address the disproportionate number of black Oregonians behind bars.
According to a 2016 report, by the Sentencing Project, blacks make up less than 2% of the state’s population; yet represent more than 9% of the state prison population as of 2014. Furthermore, the report found that the incarceration rates for black individuals are 5.6 times that of whites.
“Too often, individuals with addiction issues find their way to the doorstep of the criminal justice system when they are arrested for possession of a controlled substance,” says Kevin Campbell, executive director of the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police. “Unfortunately, felony convictions in these cases also include unintended and collateral consequences including barriers to housing and employment and a disparate impact on minority communities.”
Still, some lawmakers are wary of the bill and disagree with its “soft on crime” approach. State Senator Betsy Johnson, a Democrat who voted against the bill, said the shift toward decriminalization promotes a “hug-a-thug policy.”
The bill is headed towards the desk of Governor Kate Brown who will ultimately have the final say. In the past, Governor Brown has expressed support for the bill.
“While we still have much work ahead, HB 2355 represents an important step towards creating a more equitable justice system to better serve all Oregonians,” said Brown. “Addressing disparities that too often fall along racial and socioeconomic lines should not be political issues.”
While states like Oregon are attempting to address these disparities, on the federal level, things are headed in a different direction. Recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions attended a D.A.R.E. training conference in Texas. While at the conference, Jeff Sessions praised the D.A.R.E. program of the 80s and 90s and hinted at bringing back that initiative today.
D.A.R.E is famously known as the “Just Say No” anti-drug initiative led by Nancy Reagan that took over school campuses in the 80s and 90s. The problem with the campaign is that there were never any proven results stating the program was effective in lowering drug use.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance:
“To date, there have been more than 30 evaluations of the program that have documented the negligible long-term impacts on teen drug use.”
Although the program has undergone some changes, the effectiveness of the initiative remains uncertain. Overall, it is interesting the different strategies certain parts of the country are taking in regards to addressing addiction. While some are focused on decriminalization, other areas have a tougher approach.
What are your thoughts on these new policies? Getting help can save a life, and treatment can offer a far better future than prison. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now.