Welcome to the Ear to the Ground newsletter, hosted by We Out Here Magazine!

This newsletter will keep you informed of state and local-level developments impacting mass incarceration and the criminal punishment system. We’re focused on the Pacific Northwest, but highlight stories from across the nation.

This issue features a lowdown on the 2022 Oregon legislative session, which ends in early March!

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Oregon Legislative Watch

Life After Prison

Compensation for Wrongful Convictions (SB1584)
SB1584 would bring Oregon up to a standard set by numerous other states, which compensate people who are wrongfully convicted. Currently, people who are wrongfully convicted receive no compensation in Oregon. This bill creates a procedure so people can apply to receive $65,000 for every year they are imprisoned due to a wrongful conviction, and $25,000 for every year of​​ parole or other form of post-prison supervision, including being placed on sex offender registry.
Source: Oregon State Legislature

Addressing Recidivism, Loosening Impact of Conviction Histories
Senate Bill 1512 would limit the impact having a conviction history has on peoples’ employment and professional development. Under the bill, only convictions that “substantially relate to the specific duties and responsibilities” of a given occupation could be used to deny someone an occupational or professional license. Licenses would not be able to be denied because of an arrest or charge that did not result in a criminal conviction, unless charges are pending; youthful offenses could not be used, unless a state law says explicitly otherwise; and pardoned, sealed or set aside convictions could also not be used to deny a license.

The bill also stops employers from asking about youthful offenses, and allows youthful offenders to run for public office.
Source: Oregon State Legislature


Ending Mandatory Prison Labor
House Joint Resolution 202 would end the mandatory 40 hour work week for incarcerated people in Oregon. Currently, incarcerated people are forced to work, or partake in on-the-job training, full time. The resolution is a state constitutional amendment and would appear on the ballot if passed by the legislature.

Context: In 1994, Oregon passed a state constitutional amendment (Measure 17) requiring inmates to work or participate in on-the-job training 40 hours per week.

Another ballot proposal is on the 2022 Oregon ballot, which if passed by voters would remove the slavery loophole, which allows people to be forced to work if they are incarcerated.
Source: Oregon State LegislatureProposed 2022 Oregon Remove Slavery as Punishment for Crime from Constitution Amendment1994 Measure 17

Dignity for Incarcerated Women and Trans People
House Bill 4146 would “support gender-responsive and trauma-informed practices in Oregon’s prison system,” writes the ACLU of Oregon.
Source: ACLU of Oregon

Getting Out of Prison

Addressing Legacy of Racist Non-Unanimous Juries
Oregon’s use of racist non-unanimous juries was struck down in 2020, but hundreds of people impacted by the policy remain incarcerated. Senate Bill 1511 would “provide all Oregonians convicted by non-unanimous juries the opportunity to seek a just and constitutional legal process” to challenge their convictions.
Source: Oregon State LegislatureACLU of Oregon

Compassionate Release From Prison
It is currently extremely cumbersome for incarcerated people suffering from terminal illnesses to be granted compassionate release from prison so they can pass away while free. Senate Bill 1568 would create a clear process by tasking a state “Medical Release Advisory Committee” — of medical professionals — within the State Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision to make decisions about granting compassionate release. Certain incarcerated people would still not be eligible to receive compassionate release, including people sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of release or parole.
Source: Oregon State Legislature


Funds Culturally Specific Services For Communities of Color, Limiting Police Traffic Stops
Senate Bill 1510 is the product, in part, of advocacy from the Transforming Justice Coalition. The Coalition includes 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 others.

The bill creates $10 million in funding for a “Justice Reinvestment Equity Program” to provide services, like job training and mental health care, to “promote racial equity, address racial disparities prevalent in Oregon’s criminal justice system, and reduce prison use,” according to the Coalition.

The bill would also require police to inform people they pull over of their right to refuse consent to a search. (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.)

Additionally, under the law, police would no longer be able to pull people over simply for having a broken headlight, taillight, brake light, or license plate light. Those offenses would be made “secondary offenses,” so police would still be able to cite people for the offenses, but only if a driver has been pulled over for something else.

The bill would also limit parole and probation officers’ ability to visit formerly-incarcerated people on the job.
Sources: Oregon State LegislatureTransforming Justice CoalitionCoalition of Communities of ColorWe Out Here Magazine

Police Crowd Control Powers

In response to police brutality against Black Lives Matter protesters, the Oregon Legislature passed legislation in 2021 to rein in police crowd control powers. House Bill 4131, backed by Portland officials, would rollback the 2020 legislation. “Portland is asking Oregon legislators to weaken a 2021 law that limits police use of tear gas & munitions weapons. Why? Because police don’t like how the law limits them from using tear gas & munitions,” writes the ACLU of Oregon.
Sources: Oregon State LegislatureACLU of Oregon

Legal System

Universal Legal Representation For Immigrant Communities
When facing deportation, immigrants don’t have the right to an attorney. Senate Bill 1543 would provide funding to organizations serving immigrant communities to advance a universal legal representation program.
Source: Oregon State Legislature

Changes to Restitution in Criminal Cases
House Bill 4075 would change the procedures “for requesting and ordering restitution in criminal cases.”
Source: Oregon State Legislature

Challenging Jurors
House Bill 4073 would change the process for challenging jurors when cases go to trial.
Source: Oregon State Legislature

Voting Rights

Voting Rights For Incarcerated People With Felony Convictions
House Bill 4147 would allow incarcerated people with felonies to vote. (Read WOHM’s coverage of the bill.)
Sources: Oregon State LegislatureWe Out Here Magazine


Supporting Ethnic Studies for K-12 Schools 
House Bill 4112 would set standards for ethnic studies programs and provide professional learning opportunities for teachers, related to the standards. “The newly adopted Ethnic Studies standards for K-12 schools will ensure that all students learn  the culture and contributions of diverse communities in Oregon and beyond. Ethnic studies is particularly critical so that students from BIPOC, immigrant, and refugee communities can learn about their unique histories. This legislation would invest in professional development for educators as they implement the new standards,” wrote Coalition of Communities of Color.
Sources: Oregon State LegislatureCoalition of Communities of Color

Diversity in Education
House Bill 4031 would make it a “goal” of the state to make the percentage of “diverse employees” employed by the Oregon Department of Education reflect the percentage of “diverse students” in public schools.
Source: Oregon State Legislature


Funding For Individual Development Accounts
Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) were created in 1999, to help low-income Oregonians save money for the future. They “are matched savings accounts that build the financial management skills of qualifying Oregonians with lower incomes while they save towards a defined goal.” Once a savings goal is met, the state typically matches it $5 on the dollar. “We can advance economic opportunity for BIPOC Oregonians by investing $35 million in the Oregon IDA Initiative…a powerful tool for financial development and asset building in communities of color,” writes Coalition of Communities of Color.
Sources: Oregon IDA InitiativeCoalition of Communities of Color

Economic Equity Investment Program
Senate Bill 1579 would create an Economic Equity Investment Program to provide “ongoing funds in communities disproportionately impacted by over policing and cannabis criminalization,” writes the ACLU of Oregon.

To be eligible for the funds, organizations must serve individuals, families, businesses or communities that have experienced discrimination because of race, ethnicity, language, citizenship status, socioeconomic status, or because they live in a rural area.
Sources: Oregon State LegislatureACLU of Oregon

Towards a State Public Bank?
House Joint Resolution 205 proposes an amendment to the Oregon Constitution to explicitly say the state constitution does not ban banks owned or operated by the State of Oregon.
Source: Oregon State Legislature

Collecting Racial Tax Data
Senate Bill 1569 “would let taxpayers voluntarily report their racial and ethnic identities on their income tax forms, allowing us to collect this critical data and use it to inform policy,” writes the Coalition of Communities of Color.
Sources: Oregon State LegislatureCoalition of Communities of Color

COVID-19 Job Relief Program
House Bill 4104 would create a “Prosperity 10,000 Program to provide career coaching, occupational training and job placement services for at least 10,000 low-income job seekers most impacted by [the] COVID-19 pandemic.”
Source: Oregon State Legislature 

COVID Relief for the Arts
House Bill 4040 would provide funding to the Oregon Business Development Department to create and implement a “program to award grants to Oregon cultural organizations in response to [the] negative impact of [the] COVID-19 pandemic.”
Source: Oregon State Legislature

Funding for the Film Industry
House Bill 4153 would direct the Oregon Film and Video Office to develop and implement a “Creative Opportunity Program to make payments to entities for the creation and funding of projects…that promote the film, television, interactive, animation and media industries in Oregon.”
Source: Oregon State Legislature

Government Studies

Magic Mushroom Industry: Barriers Facing Communities of Color
It’s no secret that communities of color, and Black Oregonians in particular, were disproportionately targeted by the “War on Drugs.” Senate Bill 1580 would create a task force to study and make recommendations to address the “barriers that people of color and people who are low-income may face in establishing a psilocybin-related business.” Psilocybin is the active chemical in magic mushrooms.
Source: Oregon State Legislature

Studying the Impact of Sentencing on Recidivism

House Bill 4009 directs the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission to study the impact of different types of prison sentences on rates of recidivism (formerly-incarcerated people’s chances of returning to prison). The study would be due December 31, 2022.

Source: Oregon State Legislature

Studying the Impact of Restitution on Recidivism
House Bill 4008 directs the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission to study the impact restitution fines have on rates of recidivism. Restitution are fines people have to pay after being convicted of crimes, to support crime victims. If the bill passes, the study would be due December 31, 2022.
Source: Oregon State Legislature

Did we miss legislation you’re excited about? Let us know!

Email newsletter editor Simon Davis-Cohen: s.davis.cohen@protonmail.com.