Oregon Senate Bill 78 would allow for the release of prisoners under circumstances that some would describe as compassionate. The summary of the bill provides, in part, that ” SB 78 authorizes State Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision to advance release date of prisoner sentenced for crime, other than aggravated murder or murder, committed on or after November 1, 1989, who suffers from severe medical conditions, including terminal illness, that has caused impairment and will likely not improve or who is elderly and permanently incapacitated”.
It is no secret that one of the legislature’s primary objectives before adjourning is to adopt a budget for the Department of Corrections. Janie Har’s article in the June 17, 2011 Oregonian stated “A previous agreement for the Department of Corrections budget blew up when House Republicans, about two weeks ago, notified budget leaders they would not vote for a package of money-saving measures that could target them as soft on crime. That left a $21 million hole in the roughly $1.4 billion corrections budget for 2011-13”.
That budget deficit for the Department of Corrections is what SB 78 is really all about. In 2009, the Department of Corrections spent over $14 million dollars to pick up its employees PERS contributions. It is unlikely that the Department’s annual pick up payment has gone down. In order to make money available to pay the pick up, some legislators want to force prisoners who suffer from severe medical conditions or who are elderly and permanently incapacitated out of prison to save money. Where are these released prisoners going to go? Even in a good job market, it does not appear likely they would have the qualifications to find jobs or to even care for themselves. SB 78 does not help the prisoners to whom it would give early releases. It just tells them , if they have the capacity to understand, that if they want guaranteed state care in the Oregon prison system they must murder someone. That’s the only exception to qualifying for early release under SB 78.
SB 78 is compassionate but not to the prisoners who would be released early. It shows compassion only for the Department of Corrections’ PERS members as it helps insure they will not have to pay one cent toward their own retirement benefits.
SB 78 was introduced in the legislature at the request of Governor Kitzhaber for Department of Corrections but as of June 23, 2011 it has not been voted on by the Senate or the House.