One point of view
I was very disappointed in the quality of the cover story "Paying for Prisons" (PSU Magazine, winter 2004). Rather than informing the public of some of the important issues facing corrections and public safety, your article was a platform for one point of view that is not shared by most law enforcement professionals in Oregon.
It is not helpful when personal opinions make it impossible to see the facts. Let me give you one important example. The violent crime rate in Oregon climbed steadily for many years during the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. During those years, many attempts were made to shrink prisons and incarceration rates and find alternatives to jail or prison. And during those years the rate of violent crime continued to rise.
However, in 1995 the voters passed Measure 11 and since that time the violent crime rate has dropped dramatically. Those who are philosophically opposed to longer sentences as an appropriate response to violent crime have refused to recognize the connection between the implementation of Measure 11 (which provides longer sentences for violent crime) and the dramatic drop in violent crime.
I would hope that if your magazine intends to take on such important issues as Measure 11, that you would get a more balanced point of view.
John S. Foote
Clackamas County District Attorney
Spend money more wisely
John Kirkland's article, entitled "Paying For Prisons," was right on! I worked in the headquarters of Oregon's Department of Corrections (ODOC) for approximately 13 years, retiring in May 2002. I watched with great interest all the changes that took place. I watched increasingly severe sentensing, as well as mandatory minimums, being put in place, as part of the "tough on crime" approach popular with many politicians at the time.
We put the "three strikes" law in place, whereby a felon could end up with a life sentence for a relatively minor crime—if it was his or her third. It was difficult to believe that laws of this kind were actually constitutional. I came to believe that the role of the prison system should not be to punish and warehouse people, only to have 30 percent of them return after committing many more crimes within three years.
While I was well aware that law enforcement needs to protect society from those who would prey upon it with property crimes and violent crimes, it also seems to be doing only have its job by not making serious efforts at rehabilitation and treatment, as well as identifying and dealing with the root causes of criminality. I found that the vast majority of arriving inmates in the ODOC system were functionally illiterate, had alcohol and drug dependency problems, and needed psychological treatment.
We should spend our money more wisely to reduce the tendency toward criminal behavior by addressing the causes.
Tough love saves dollars
In many ways John Kirkland got it right in pointing out that prisons are not run correctly, in order to salvage firs-time criminals. But like many other well-intended politically correct folks, he did not take two things into account.
First, he uses one-sided accounting, in that he points out the costs of confining the increasing prison population, but he did not point out the much bigger savings due to the declining crime rate. Secondly, he points out that authorities know how to classify people to know who can be helped and how; however, the guidelines give were sadly naive.
Research has shown the voters know more than the Ph.D. sociologists, in that Measure 11 had to be implemented because the Ph.D.s would not allow the classification of people. The "tough love" methods work wonders. (No, TL is not beating up prisoners!) Boosting self-esteem is a necessary but not a sufficient way to "cure" antisocial tendencies.
C. Norman Winningstad MBA '73
Editor's note: We appreciate hearing readers' comments on the magazine's content. However, we will not print letters about letters. With four months between the publishing of each magazine, it is difficult to follow references that refer back two or more issues ago.