Prisons don't prevent crimes

February 14, 2008 12:00 am

To the editor:

The Herald should do its homework before blindly supporting expensive feel-good legislation.

In your Feb. 12 editorial "No more freebies," you support Kevin Mannix's Initiative 40, which mandates minimum sentences of 14 to 36 months for a host of drug and property crimes. You want to "discourage" crime and, apparently, are willing to do so no matter the cost to taxpayers. You conveniently leave out the shocking $400,000,000 price tag.

Neither you nor Mannix on his Web site offers any evidence that Initiative 40 will result in reducing crime rates. If you had done a few minutes Googling, you would have found that study after study shows reduction in crime is not attributable to mandatory minimum sentences.

Take, for example, Oregon's Measure 11, the mandatory minimum sentencing law for violent crimes approved in 1994. After Measure 11 took effect, prison population grew from 7,539 to 13,401 inmates by 2007.

A study of Oregon's crime and incarceration rates commissioned by Western Prison Project found during the decade following passage of Measure 11, violent crime rates in Oregon did fall. But ... so did violent crimes rates across the nation, even in those states that did not embark, as did Oregon, on hugely expensive prison construction projects. The study concluded, "There appears to be no direct relationship between incarceration rates and crime rates."

The best example is comparison of Oregon and New York, a state which built no new prisons. Between 1995 and 2002, Oregon's incarceration rate jumped by 66.2 percent, while New York's incarceration rate fell by 8.4 percent. Yet both experienced nearly equal reductions in violent crime.

With a little more research, the Herald would have found that studies show much, much more bang for the buck in crime reduction is achieved with money spent on rehabilitation programs. Unfortunately while Oregon was spending millions and millions building new prisons, alcohol and drug addiction treatment programs had their funding drastically reduced.

It feels good to lock up criminals. But it is penny wise and pound foolish to spend the money on ineffective mandatory minimum sentences rather than on proven rehabilitation programs.

Gary Dielman

Baker City