In advocating for inmates,
let’s not forget about the crime
By Joshua Marquis
Appeared in print: Sunday, Jul 4, 2010
The family members of criminals often pay a greater price than the people
who molested, stole, assaulted or even murdered. They don’t deserve to
be punished, but it is a classic line that the judge or prosecutor should go
easier on the criminal because of how it might affect their family.
Bob Welch’s June 27 article (“Hard time”) paints Citizens United for
Rehabilitation of Errants as a group of isolated outcasts with little
sympathy and less support.
What strikes me is the plethora of groups like CURE. They include the
extremely well-funded Partnership for Safety and Justice, Families Against
Mandatory Minimums, Better People (which launched state Sen. Chip
Shields’ political career as an advocate for inmates and their families), and
Sponsors Inc. of Eugene, which has been around a very long time.
I don’t begrudge these organizations, but to claim that they are shivering
on a metaphorical ice floe is not accurate. And, unlike the few victims’
support groups — including Crime Victims United — these groups are well-
funded by deep pockets such as George Soro’s Open Society Institute. By
contrast, the victims’ groups operate on a wing and a prayer.
Welch points out that, “Among other things, the Oregon chapter
works with the Oregon Department of Corrections on intake and
release orientation.” The official position of the DOC is to do
everything possible to help inmates’ families and to assist in the
eventual transition of most inmates back into society. Otherwise,
unless the inmate is doing life without parole — a sentence that can
be imposed only for aggravated murder — he will walk among us
again, probably sooner rather than later. And remember: The
Legislature increased earned time up to 30 percent in the last
This paragraph by Welch hit me the hardest:
“They talk about the logistics of visiting a family member in a
correctional facility. The perceived unfairness of Measure 11 — the
voter-approved law that requires minimum mandatory sentences for
certain felonies ... As the meeting continues, nobody asks what
crime someone’s relative has committed; the emphasis is on now,
not then. Getting by in the present, not digging up the past. But
about a third are connected in some way to someone incarcerated
for sex offenses, and the bulk of the rest have loved ones serving
time for armed robbery or assault. One is related to a convicted
I can understand the group not wanting to ruminate on the terrible
crimes committed by family members, but that is like having an AA
meeting without ever mentioning booze.
The biggest objection to Measure 11 usually comes from middle-
class families who are outraged at the penalties for their son, who
just had this “one incident with some 11-year-old who looked 18,”
or their daughter, who just did “something stupid” when she
clubbed an 82-year-old woman over the head with a wrench,
doused her in pepper spray, tied her up, threw her in a bathtub and
sprayed her with a fire extinguisher, then ransacked the house and
stole her car. “Suddenly, she found herself in prison,” Welch wrote.
Measure 11 doesn’t apply to drug dealers or burglars, car thieves or
even those convicted of most forms of child abuse (unless it is
sexual). And if the felony is not violent but what is known as a Class
C felony (car theft, drug possession, etc.), the offender can have
her entire record wiped clean three years after conviction, if she
stays out of trouble.
Oregon incarcerates at a rate less than 60 percent of other states.
Our sentences are typically much shorter. Oregon’s violent crime is
down a lot — in part due to Measure 11, in part due to other factors.
My late father, University of Oregon professor Lucian Marquis, liked
to quote Italian writer Ignazio Silone: “Never make fun of a man in
jail.” He was right, of course. But let’s not lose sight of why the man
Joshua Marquis worked for 11 years in the Lane County district
attorney’s office, for two years in Eugene as a criminal defense
attorney and for the past 17 years as district attorney in Clatsop