Bill on juvenile criminal cases sparks debate in Oregon

The bill would let judges, rather than prosecutors, decide when youthful offenders are tried as adults, as well as allowing someone under the age of 18 at the time of their crime to be eligible for parole or post-prison supervision after 15 years if "certain findings are made."

Posted: Apr 23, 2019 11:37 PM
Updated: Apr 24, 2019 10:14 AM

SALEM, Ore. -- Senators and district attorneys are butting heads over Senate Bill 1008, which would amend how juvenile court cases are handled, prosecuted and sentenced.

Lane County District Attorney Patty Perlow is speaking out against that bill, saying it would repeal Measure 11 crimes for juveniles.

State Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D) is the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee who sponsored the bill. He said prosecutors are using scare tactics to keep the law the same.

The bill would let judges, rather than prosecutors, decide when youthful offenders are tried as adults.

It would also allow someone under the age of 18 at the time of their crime to be eligible for parole or post-prison supervision after 15 years if "certain findings are made."

Prozanski said it could not be applied to previous convictions, such as Thurston High School shooter Kip Kinkel. Perlow said she disagrees.

"I can't really address specifically what it means for Kip Kinkel because there are great minds who are legal scholars I respect from both sides of this argument who are in complete disagreement about whether or not it does affect Kinkel's sentence," Perlow said.

Prozanski said the bill itself focuses on allowing the Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) to focus on rehabilitation.

"We have enough data showing that brain development does not complete until age 21 to age 25," Prozanski said. "It only seems appropriate that we should allow for the Oregon Youth Authority to not only oversee the youth and work with them to make them a better citizen when they come out."

For Perlow, one of her main concerns is the impact it would have on sentencing and the parole or post-prison supervision process.

"It doesn't matter how many victims you have. It doesn't matter how many charges you have," Perlow said. "There's a maximum sentence. There is an automatic second look, and there's a possibility for parole after 15 years, regardless. The parole board is not to consider the crimes you've committed or the effect on the community or your victims. It is strictly to look at what the offender has done maturity-wise in prison or in juvenile detention."

Prozanski said giving juvenile offenders the possibility of serving their sentences through OYA gives them a better chance of rehabilitation.

"Based on what we know, the outcomes are actually better when you have the youth going through the youth system because they have much more opportunity to make changes."

The bill has already passed through the Senate and is scheduled for a public hearing in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

Prozanski said he believes the House will pass the bill as well and that Gov. Kate Brown will sign it.

If that happens, the bill's language states these changes would apply to sentences imposed after Jan. 1, 2020.

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