Lawyers Lobby Against Juvenile Criminal Justice Reform

A bill passed the Oregon Senate seeking to reverse parts of a 1994 crime bill, allowing judges more discretion in referring certain juvenile cases to adult courts. 

Senate Bill 1008 (SB 1008) would reverse parts of Measure 11, part of an omnibus crime bill passed in 1994, during the controversial “tough on crime” era which ushered in laws like “three strikes” rules and other policies criticized as the cause of many criminal justice issues today.  

Measure 11 imposed strict mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes, and required that juveniles ages 15, 16 and 17 be referred to adult courts automatically for certain crimes, like violent crimes. SB 1008 removes the referral requirement, giving judges rather than prosecutors discretion in these referrals. 

The Oregon District Attorneys’ Association (ODAA) opposed SB 1008, circulating internal research titled “An Examination of Juvenile Measure 11 In Oregon Today,” as evidence that Measure 11 is working as intended.  

However, this report was criticized by legal experts and academics as misleading. It contains claims that “violent crime has dropped more than 50% since the passage of Measure 11,” and that as of 2017 (when the report was written), only 359 youths had been referred to adult courts. 

“I don’t feel like it’s at all close to an accurate representation of what’s going on with youth in the system,” said Mark Leymon, a criminology and criminal justice professor at Portland State University. 

Violent crime rates have dropped nationwide since the 1990s, but it is nearly impossible to credit a single with that level of change. This argument is often used to defend similar laws from the “three strikes” era.  

Leymon told reporters that, looking at how the law works in practice rather than on paper, there are closer to 4,000 youths who have been referred to adult courts through Measure 11. 

SB 1008 narrowly passed the Senate by a two-thirds vote, and now awaits another vote in the House Judiciary Committee. 

By Ian MacRonald