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Corrections officers in September 2012 deliver toilet paper to inmates in the segregation unit at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, Pendleton. The 2021 Oregon Legislature is considering Senate Bill 401, which would replace Oregon’s system of mandatory minimum prison sentences for certain violent or especially heinous crimes.

It might surprise you to learn that some members of the Oregon Legislature believe convicted rapists, murderers and people who exploit children for pornography in certain cases spend too much time in prison.

Among the issues lawmakers need to address — the effects of the pandemic, most obviously — mollycoddling felons can certainly be reserved for a future legislative session.

Yet the Legislature is considering Senate Bill 401. It would replace Oregon’s system of mandatory minimum prison sentences for certain violent or especially heinous crimes — a system in place since voters approved Measure 11 in 1994 — with one that would give judges the authority to impose prison terms for such crimes.

Oregon district attorneys, most of whom oppose the bill, say its passage would result in people spending less time in prison — up to 40% less — after being convicted of crimes including first-degree sexual abuse, first-degree kidnapping and first-degree assault, along with rape and murder.

Lest you think Oregon’s mandatory minimum sentences are excessive, consider that a person convicted of first-degree rape will serve eight years and four months. Exploiting a child for pornographic purposes brings a sentence of five years and 10 months. The harm these criminals cause to their victims, of course, has no release date.

Although correlation doesn’t always equate to causation, it is beyond dispute that violent crime rates in Oregon have dropped by more than 50%, to the lowest level since the 1960s, since voters approved Measure 11.

It’s conceivable, of course, that a significant number of Oregonians have changed their mind about mandatory minimum sentences over the past 27 years. If legislators believe that’s so, then they should give voters a chance to replace the current system rather than making the decision for them.

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