OSU Day at the Capitol 2011” by Oregon State University is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

The Oregon Legislature has passed Senate Bill 1510. This “Transforming Justice” legislation, featured in WOHM’s Ear to the Ground newsletter, is now on Governor Kate Brown’s desk, where it’s expected to be signed. 

The bill does a few things. It devotes $10 million in state funding for culturally specific post-incarceration services, aims to limit police search powers during traffic stops, reduces the number of offenses police can use as pretext to pull over drivers, and provides reforms to the parole system to help formerly incarcerated peoples’ transition back into their communities.

Some history

The motivation behind SB 1510’s Justice Reinvestment Equity Program dates back to 2013, when legislation was passed in response to advocacy from state prison officials calling for more funding for a new state prison. Those opposing the new prison pushed for a reduction in prison sentences, so there would be no need for a new prison. This resulted in a compromise bill, HB 3194.

The ACLU of Oregon initially supported the 2013 bill, but removed it’s support after key priorities for the 2013 legislative session were taken out. Those included reforms to give judges more discretion over Measure 11 (juvenile) and Measure 57 (drug and property) offenses, “modest” changes to earned-time eligibility for incarcerated people exhibiting good behavior, “second looks” for youth convicted of Measure 11 offenses, and earned-discharge for certain people on probation or post-prison supervision.

“We voiced our strong support for this bill, modest as it may have been, because the proposals had the potential to limit the growth of incarceration in Oregon without sacrificing public safety,” wrote the ACLU of Oregon in 2013. “Unfortunately, late-session amendments turned HB 3194 from an important step forward to a disappointing missed opportunity.”

HB 3194 did reduce some prison sentences and was accompanied by funds to assist people getting out of prison. However, racial and social justice advocates have raised serious concerns that these services have not been adequately reaching Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other underserved populations.

As Shannon Wight, Deputy Director, Partnership for Safety & Justice testified in February 2022, the 2013 reform “has been extremely successful. It has prevented the opening of new prisons and has helped rein in public safety costs. When creating Justice Reinvestment in 2013, however, we neglected to ensure that funds get to historically underserved communities throughout the state.” 

A 2020 state study supports this claim, finding, “the use of culturally specific providers within [the Justice Reinvestment Grant Program] is rare. Culturally-specific providers traditionally have been excluded from consideration for [Justice Reinvestment Grant Program] treatment subcontracts and victim services allocations.”

SB 1510’s Justice Reinvestment Equity Program adds $10 million to address this disparity. These funds, testified Justice Advocates, “will provide services to people disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system, thereby both promoting public safety and reducing prison use.”

The new funds will be administered by Northwest Health Foundation.

Reining in police search powers

SB 1510 requires “consent searches” after police pull over drivers. That means police can only search a car if they have received consent. (Read We Out Here Magazine’s coverage of a December 2021 Oregon Supreme Court decision overruling an exception to the state constitution that allowed police to search drivers they pull over without a warrant.)

However, Multnomah County public defender Chris O’Connor says the “consent searches” portion of SB 1510 “has no teeth.”

Police face no penalty if they violate this part of the law, O’Connor explains. “Say they don’t tell them or don’t record the purported consent? That stuff from the search of the car can’t come into evidence right? It was an illegal search, right? Nope. ​​You see, a court can’t exclude evidence from trial just because the officer violated a clear statute or even if they commited a crime. Evidence in a search that violates this statute will still come in unless the search violated a constitutional right. And to make it worse, the officer in such a scenario has committed a crime. Official Misconduct. But that would require a [district attorney] to enforce the law against police, and the reality and politics of that make it highly unlikely…. unfortunately overall this portion of the bill has no teeth.”

Limiting police traffic stops

Section 6 of SB 1510 aims to reduce police traffic stops. It does this by demoting the offenses of a broken headlight, taillight, brake light, or license plate light to “secondary offenses,” meaning police would still be able to cite people for the offenses, but only if a driver has been pulled over for something else.

Parole reforms

According to Paul Solomon, Executive Director of Sponsors, a group that provides re-entry services for people returning from prison, SB 1510 “will have a profound impact on the individuals…reentering Oregon communities post-incarceration each year.”

The bill removes some conditions of supervision, which “includes aligning the conditions with state drug laws (instead of federal) to reflect the legalization of Marijuana in Oregon,” according to Solomon. That means people on parole or probation would not violate their conditions of supervision if they test positive for Marijuana, because Marijuana is legal in Oregon. It also limits parole and probation officers’ power to visit people while they are working, allows for some virtual check-ins to replace in-person visits, and requires parole and probation officers receive trauma-informed and culturally specific training.

Product of coalition building

SB 1510 has support from labor unions and was a central demand of the Transforming Justice Coalition, composed of Partnership for Safety and Justice, Red Lodge Transition Services, Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Imagine Black, ACLU of Oregon, Coalition of Communities of Color, Latino Network, Next Up, among many others.

All testimony on the bill is available here.