Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.



Columnist says Measure 11, passed in 1994, created a one-size-fits-all sledge hammer that has deeply - and often unfairly - impacted our most vulnerable communities

At a recent forum for district attorney candidates, we were asked a yes-or-no question about repealing Measure 11, which applies strict sentencing guidelines for serious felony crimes.

At the time, I said I did not support repeal, wanting to apply it only in the most clear and egregious of cases. In hindsight, I realize that was an unclear representation of my position.

My position on repealing Measure 11: I support repeal, but want to replace it with strong guidelines for certain heinous crimes — such as rape, child sexual abuse and other cases.

As a former defense attorney and prosecutor, I am keenly aware of the injustices and racial disparities that occur with mandatory sentencing. Measure 11, passed in 1994, created a one-size-fits-all sledge hammer that has deeply — and often unfairly — impacted our most vulnerable communities, especially low-income and minority communities. Defendants often are pushed to accept plea deals that ignore the nuance and circumstance of some criminal behavior. We must do better.

I applaud the work of the Legislature to reduce the harm of Measure 11 and keep children in juvenile court. I believe we need to take this further and address the impact of Measure 11 on young adults, ages 18 to 25.

My hesitation, however, in making a stand-alone promise to repeal Measure 11 is that we cannot forget that the system we had before Measure 11 was even more antiquated, arbitrary and prone to racial and economic bias.

To support a repeal of Measure 11 without a concrete plan to replace it with a robust, modern sentencing framework would set us back without looking forward. Sentencing guidelines worthy of our consideration include preserving stiff sentences for our most violent and predatory offenses, and restoration of judicial discretion for many other cases.

Further, judicial discretion should not mean returning to the haphazard and wildly disparate treatment of offenders of the pre-Measure 11 years.

Rather, we must create a new system with objective and measurable standards so our judges have tools to properly address the individual circumstances of a given case with compassion, discretion and concern for the rights of both victims and perpetrators.

I look forward to continuing this important conversation in the coming months with voters and advocates across Multnomah County.

Kirsten Naito is a candidate for Multnomah County district attorney

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