TIME SERVED BY PRISONERS ON THE RISE: Oregon Drug Offenders see significant increase in prison sentences served
A recent study conducted by the Pew Center on the States concluded that the amount of time served by Oregon prisoners released in 2009 had gone up 32% from the amount of time served by Oregon prisoners released in 1990¹. This increase in time served amounts to an additional 10 months in prison. Ten additional months in prison is not something to dismiss as insignificant.
The increase in time served in Oregon is not an anomaly. Oregon’s increase in time served is pretty much in step with the national average. The Pew study concluded that nationally, the amount of time served by prisoners has gone up 36% from 1990 to 2009. Despite the national percentage increase being higher than Oregon’s by 4%, the additional time served comes out to 9 months compared to Oregon’s 10 months.
Perhaps even more interestingly, Oregon significantly diverges from the national data when it comes to time served for drug crimes. Whereas Oregon prisoners on average have spent 32% longer in prison, those serving time in Oregon for drug crimes have spent 62% longer in prison. Compare this to the national average of an increase of 36% for drug crime offenders, and a 36% increase overall, and it becomes clear that the large percentage increase in time served for drug crimes in Oregon is disproportionate to even the national standard.
One reason for the much higher increase in prison sentences for drug crimes in Oregon may be due to the fact that Oregon is still below the national average in time served for drug crimes. Nationally, a person convicted of a drug offense and released in 2009 spent, on average, 2.2 years in prison. In Oregon, a person convicted of a drug offense and released in 2009 spent, on average, 1.7 years in prison. Even with Oregon’s 62% increase in time served in prison for drug offenses, the average time served in prison does not reach the national average of time spent in prison for drug offenses. One should certainly ask whether it is appropriate for Oregon to be chasing the national average for time served for drug offenses, but data from the study indicate that since 1990, prison terms have steadily increased for drug offense.
Will this trend continue? Will Oregon continue to increase the time served by prisoners who are convicted (especially those convicted of drug offenses)? It is difficult to predict. It is no secret the state of Oregon has severe budget problems, and as the Pew study explains, it is expensive to keep people in prison. It costs the state of Oregon on average $5,304 to keep a person in prison for a month. When multiplied by 10 months (the additional time offenders released in 2009 served relative to 1990), the average cost of keeping an offender in prison longer comes to $50,433. Two thousand four hundred ten offenders were released from prison in 2009, raising the grand total the state spent on keeping offenders in prison longer to $121.5 Million.
¹ – http://www.pewstates.org/research/state-fact-sheets/time-served-in-oregon-85899396385
The complete report may be downloaded at: http://www.pewstates.org/uploadedFiles/PCS_Assets/2012/Prison_Time_Served.pdf