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(Correction: The press release on SB 1008 is a joint release from both Representatives Caddy McKeown and David Brock Smith)

COOS COUNTY — The state youth justice system has been reformed in what has been described as “historic legislation,” but alarms are being sounded by some in the court system.

On Thursday, May 23, the Bipartisan Youth Justice Reform Legislation was approved after “hours of debate,” according to a joint press release sent out by Representatives Caddy McKeown and David Brock Smith on Monday, May 27.

The legislation, better known as Senate Bill 1008, is now moving to Governor Kate Brown’s desk.

“A yes vote on the Youth Justice Reform Bill (SB 1008) was the right thing to do, but I did not take this vote lightly or arrive at a supportive position without significant consideration,” said Rep. Caddy McKeown in the joint release. “I’m glad we had a robust debate.”

However, Coos County District Attorney Paul Frasier sounded alarms over the bill weeks before it was approved. He reached out to McKeown and Representative David Brock Smith to underline his concerns, hoping to make an impact.

As he explained it, the bill repeals the violent juvenile offender provisions in Measure 11, which was approved by voters in 1994. Some tried to get it repealed in 1997, but voters turned that down to keep Measure 11 intact.

What Measure 11 does is it automatically puts 15, 16 and 17 year olds who commit violent crimes into adult court without requiring a waiver hearing asking the judge to place the juvenile in adult court.

“I’m opposed to (SB 1008) first of all because Measure 11 was passed by the people, an initiative put together by private citizens and the first time it was voted on it passed with 60 percent approval,” Frasier said. “Then in 1997, people said it was too harsh and needed to be repealed. That failed and the vote on that was over 70 percent to keep it in place. My position has always been, since it was a private citizen initiative, the people should vote on it if we make changes.”

According to McKeown and Smith's joint release, SB 1008 eliminates the automatic waiver of kids into the adult justice system, extends the eligibility for “second look” hearings halfway through a youth sentence, and allows transfer hearings for children who are aging out of the Oregon Youth Authority and into adult prison with less than two years remaining on their sentence.

The release added that the bill also “fixes the constitutional problem identified by the United States Supreme Court by eliminating automatic life without parole sentences for children and make them eligible for a parole hearing after serving 15 years of their sentence.”

However, the release said it “is not retroactive” and “applies only to sentences imposed after January 1, 2020, and no currently incarcerated youth offenders will be released by its passage.  All provisions of Measure 11 that pertain to adults are left entirely intact.”

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In the release, McKeown explained that during the debate prior to the vote, she was influenced by statements from “over forty retired Oregon judges in support of the measure.” She added that those judges came from Douglas, Lane, Curry and Coos counties.

“These respected judicial leaders and the other public safety professionals supporting the reforms have seen the problems with our outdated youth justice system up close,” she said in the release. “With the passage of this bill, the young people in Oregon’s justice system will have opportunities to be rehabilitated instead of being turned into more serious offenders through forced interaction with adult convicts.”

However, Frasier said the juveniles sent to adult court are kept in juvenile facilities until 18 or until 25 depending on good behavior.

“The bottom line is, current adolescent brain science is unequivocal -- children’s brains and decision-making abilities are not fully developed until they reach their twenties,” McKeown said in the release. “Experts agree that Oregon’s youth justice system is outdated, and it is the responsibility of the legislature, under Measure 10, to update it.”

The most recent Measure 11 case was in 2018 when a 15-year-old juvenile raped a four-year-old. Frasier said the child sex abuse investigator with the Coos County Sheriff’s Office said it was one of the most dangerous individuals he had run into.

The most recent case waived out of Measure 11 was also last year when a 16-year-old juvenile robbed the Bunker Hill 7-11 at gunpoint.

“That’s serious because when you rob someone at gunpoint that is one shot away from a murder case,” Frasier said. “We initially thought we should look at this as Measure 11 and initially charged it as that but once we got into the background and talked to the police and the victims and the family and mental health professionals, we came to the conclusion that we could save him so we took it out of Measure 11. He is now in programs that we hope will salvage him.”

When the SB 1008 passed last week, Frasier told The World he was disappointed.

“We were very selective when it came to juveniles being selected for Measure 11 crimes and only when we felt the evidence showed there was no chance in salvaging the young person,” he said. “I do believe that we, more often than not, took cases out of Measure 11 than we did putting kids into it. The proponents of the bill tried to make it sound like some district attorneys were using it in every case and locking up the kids and throwing away the key, which in Coos County was not the truth.”

Frasier summed up that his concerns are surrounding what happens now and what will be done with a juvenile who commits a serious crime, like murder and rape.

“How are we going to handle it, because it sounds to me that the criteria is much more stringent to get someone to adult court,” he said. “We will have to see how it plays out. The legislature has said what it wants to do, so we will deal with it.”

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Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.

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