Proponents of eliminating of Ballot Measure 11 uniformly claim, without presenting any evidence whatsoever, that the measure has increased racial disparities in the justice system. Not only is this claim categorically false, but the exact opposite is true. Ballot Measure 11 has significantly improved racial disparities in felony sentencing and imprisonment in Oregon, and among some minority groups, has totally eliminated those disparities. Any assertion to the contrary is simply false.
Academics utilize a data tool called the Relative Rate Index (RRI) to quantify disparities among demographic groups. The RRI measures the rate at which a demographic group appears in the particular category under study against the rate at which that demographic group appears in the general population. For instance, if a particular racial group constitutes 10% of the general population, but 20% of infant mortality deaths, an obvious disparity exists. That RRI ratio of 1:2 represents a significant issue for policy makers to address.
To analyze over-representation by race in the criminal justice system, data analysts use the Relative Rate Index to compare the general population percentage of a particular race or ethnic group to the percentage of the prison population by race. Since the advent of Ballot Measure 11 in 1995, racial disparities in the prison system have improved dramatically. Disparities for Blacks have been cut in half, and disparities among Hispanics have disappeared completely in Oregon. Whites, on the other hand, have been incarcerated in prison at increasing rates since Measure 11 was instituted.
The obvious conclusion is that a sentencing system that encourages a fixed sentence (contrary to what opponents claim, Measure 11 is not a completely mandatory sentencing law) removes the hidden biases that come into play in a subjective sentencing process. The Relative Rate Index data is clear. Because of Ballot Measure 11, racial disparities in violent felony sentencing have improved as follows:
Hispanic disparities: In 1994, Hispanics made up 3.97% of Oregon's general population, but 10.41% of its prison population. Today, Hispanics constitute 13.4% of Oregon general population, but 13.2% of Oregon prison population. Not only have all Hispanic racial disparities been eliminated among prison inmates in Oregon, but Hispanics now represent a lower percentage of Oregon prison population than they do in Oregon's general population. Justice system incarceration disparities for Hispanics in Oregon have been eliminated since the advent of BM11.
African-American disparities: In 1994, African-Americans made up 1.62% of Oregon's general population, and today that figure is 2.20%. Using the RRI analysis for African-Americans in Oregon's prison system, the RRI ratio in 1994 was 8.2:1. The ratio today is 4.2:1, meaning that justice system racial disparities among African-Americans have been cut in half since BM11 came into effect.
Native-American/Alaskan disparities: In 1994, Native-American/Alaska natives made up 1.35% of state general population, and today that figure is 1.80%. In 1994, justice system disparities for this group were 1.72:1. Today, that figure is 1.77:1, essentially unchanged.
White disparities: The white RRI ratio has increased from .787:1 in 1994 to .861:1 today. RRI data makes it clear that Measure 11 has increased the share of Oregon prison inmates who are white.
John Foote served as Clackamas County district attorney from 1995-97, and again from 2001-21. Prior to that he also served as the director, inspector general and assistant director of the Oregon Department of Corrections.
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