Brown Signs Juvenile Justice Reform Bill

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Governor Kate Brown signed an omnibus bill that will modernize Oregon’s youth justice system. Senate Bill 1008 passed both the Oregon House and the Senate with two-thirds support this Session.

Members of late Sen. Jackie Winters’ family joined advocates at the signing ceremony; Winters carried the bill on the Senate floor in April, alongside Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-South Lane and North Douglas Counties). Before voting yes, Sen. Winters remembered her late husband, Marc “Ted” Winters in her floor speech, noting that he was sentenced to prison as a 17-year-old and went on to work for two Oregon governors.

“He would tell you that the Department of Corrections is no place for a juvenile,” Winters said. “He would also tell you that rather than getting an education where you actually have hope, just the reverse occurs. You are teaching the individual, particularly juveniles, how to be better criminals.”

SB 1008 becomes operative on January 1, 2020, and will change the way Oregon tries and sentences youth, shifting the focus to prevention and rehabilitation. Previously under Oregon law, children as young as 15 could be tried and sentenced as adults for certain crimes, and also be sentenced to life without parole.

“We applaud Oregon’s legislature and Governor for shifting to what works with youth justice,” said ACLU of Oregon Policy Director Kimberly McCullough. “Young people have a remarkable capacity for change. The vast majority of youth who commit crimes age out of criminal behavior and no longer pose a threat to society in adulthood. SB 1008’s reforms will give youth who take accountability for their mistakes and successfully rehabilitate a second chance to become productive members of society.”

The bill includes four updates that will create a more humane and effective juvenile justice system in Oregon:

• Places youth accused of any crimes in the youth justice system instead of the adult justice system. To move a youth to the adult justice system, prosecutors would need to request a special hearing with a judge who would decide where youth are placed.

• Establishes a process where all youth who are convicted in adult court have access to a "Second Look" hearing half way through their sentence. At that hearing, a judge determines whether the youth has taken responsibility for their crime and been rehabilitated, which would allow the remainder of their sentence to be served under community-based supervision, rather than being incarcerated.

• Requires an additional review before a youth with a long sentence would be transferred to an adult prison. Currently, Oregon youth who are given long sentences can stay in a youth prison until age 25 and are then transferred to an adult prison. This proposal would allow a judge to determine if the 25-year-old has been sufficiently rehabilitated to transfer them to community-based supervision, rather than adult prison.

• Eliminates life without parole sentences for youth in Oregon by establishing a process to ensure that anyone convicted of a crime when they are under eighteen years old receives a chance for parole after 15 years of incarceration.

Over 100 organizations and individuals submitted testimony in support of the bill, including the ACLU of Oregon, Partnership for Safety & Justice, Right on Crime, the Oregon Justice Resource Center, and leaders from the Oregon Youth Authority and the Department of Corrections. Notably, over 30 retired Oregon Supreme Court, circuit court, and appellate judges from across the state also submitted a joint letter of testimony to the Legislature, urging them to pass SB 1008. “We, like the United States Supreme Court, have been educated about the role of adolescent and teen brain development on risk-taking and immature behavior,” the letter read. “Treatment models designed specifically for young offenders (combined with confinement when necessary), which emphasize accountability and reformation may often keep our communities safer and cost less, both fiscally and in terms of human potential.”

Source: Office of the Governor Kate Brown

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