Backers: OR Criminal-Justice Bill Would Create Job, Housing Stability
Monday, January 31, 2022
Advocates for criminal-justice reform are continuing their effort to change the system during Oregon's upcoming legislative session.
Senate Bill 1510 aims to reduce interactions with law enforcement - a move that proponents see as vital for the safety of people of color.
Babak Zolfaghari-Azar is a community advocate and board member for the Partnership for Safety and Justice. He said the bill is part of their work to change the criminal-justice system in the wake of George Floyd's murder by Minneapolis police.
Zolfaghari-Azar recalled his own experiences with police.
"If the policies that are included in this bill had been in place, then I likely wouldn't be living with those experiences," said Zolfaghari-Azar. "So it's really a matter of imagining how many fewer people would have those concerns or have those unnecessary criminal records."
The bill would make stops for offenses such as a broken tail light or brake light a "secondary offense," meaning it can't be the only reason for pulling someone over. It also requires law enforcement notify people of their right to consent to a search during a stop.
The legislation also includes changes for people on parole, prevent some workplace visits by probation officers and enabling some people to report remotely for parole and probation. Zolfaghari-Azar said this would eliminate some of the obstacles to jobs and housing people face after leaving incarceration.
"They're trying to heal," said Zolfaghari-Azar. "They've been accountable to what happened, to the harm they caused. Let's give them an opportunity to be a contributing member to society because that's exactly what's going to help public safety."
The bill would create and fund the Justice Reinvestment Equity Program as well.
A broad coalition is supporting the effort, including Oregon Food Bank. Matt Newell-Ching, public policy manager with the organization, said people of color are more likely to be sent to prison than white people for committing the same offenses.
He also noted that 90% of people returning from incarceration report struggling to afford food.
"So when we have such disparate treatment of our community members, disproportionately sending Black and Brown community members to prison," said Newell-Ching, "it's no wonder why a higher percentage of Black and Brown Oregonians experience food insecurity. It's wrong and we think it's time to do something about that."
The legislation session starts tomorrow and is scheduled to adjourn on March 7.
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