The Oregonian is running a ceaseless (and thus far unrebutted) war on what is left of Measure 11, re-passed by 75% of Oregon voters in 2000. The most recent piece is by a young man who is just finishing 17 years for a double manslaughter following previous violent felony convictions.
My response, originally accepted by the newspaper, "timed out" because there are more anti-victims op-eds slated for publication. So, here it is for you. ::::
Thirty years ago Oregon’s violent crime rates were skyrocketing. Murders in the state’s most populous county were at an all-time high. Prison sentences were irrelevant; dangerous offenders cycled in and out of prison.
Then citizens – not politicians or prosecutors – forged Ballot Measure 11. This law gave real time for real crime – eight years for armed robbery with a gun where the victim is injured, eight years for the rape of a child, 25 years for intentional murder. Measure 11 laid out minimum mandatory sentences for the worst crimes – regardless of the race or class of the offender.
Now a chorus of felons, defense attorneys and social justice activists are clamoring to return to the days when a “20-year sentence” might only really mean eight months.
Citizen support for Measure 11 has remained solid. When it first passed in 1994, it won with 64 percent. In 2000, opponents attempted to repeal it Measure 94. Voters said no by a three-to-one margin.
Measure 11’s foes now are trying to side-step voters by going to the legislature. Twice in the past, legislators have chipped away at the law. Legislators are always looking to save money in one place to spend somewhere else. Minimum-mandatory prison sentences have been a convenient target. Many victims of violent crime are from the lower socio-economic classes. They don’t have well-financed lobbyists.
In the 2021 legislative session expect to see and hear more stories like the one offered by multiple-felon Martin Lockett a few weeks ago in the Oregonian. Lockett opposes Measure 11, but he is an excellent example of why this law works.
Lockett earned a 17-year sentence for robbery and the manslaughter of two people in 2003. The judge was required only to give him a single 7-½ year sentence for the manslaughters but gave him a longer sentence because of his prior felonies and the heinous nature of his new conviction. Even Lockett conceded he was no stranger to the law. He had already been given second chances for previous crimes and was on probation.
He offered a well-worn excuse for killing two people, saying he “turned over a new leaf – until my troubled relationship with alcohol led me into the most catastrophic mistake one can make while intoxicated.”
Under Measure 11, Lockett could no longer act like a passive actor being led astray.
The substantial sentence he received undoubtedly had a sobering effect on him. It forced him to realize that if he did not change, he would likely spend the rest of his life in and out of a cell. While in prison, he earned a master’s degree and developed new habits.
Now that he will be released from Deer Ridge in June, he displays arrogance when he talks about what he learned while in prison: “My transformation was solely of my own doing, not because any mechanism in the system aided or encouraged it.”
What we know with certainty is that while Lockett was in prison, he did not kill or rob again. He did not hurt anyone in the general public. If his past is any indication, had there been no Measure 11 he would have once again paroled quickly and resumed his bad habits.
Lockett is proud of how progressive Oregon can be and hopes it will end Measure 11. When he is finally released, perhaps he can take a stroll through downtown Portland. He may be surprised at what justice can look like with a progressive District Attorney, like Mike Schmidt.
I hope Lockett settles down into a law-abiding life. If he does, he may find a new appreciation for why Oregonians voted for Measure 11.
JOSHUA MARQUIS on
criminal justice, animal welfare, and the nature of the relationship between popular culture and the law.
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