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Measure 11 and Women in Prison

March 2, 2010


We, as women, are persecuted in many respects. Since the time of Colonial America and before, we have been killed for being suspected of “witchcraft,” imprisoned for speaking out against the government, and not allowed to vote, own property, or have a say in whether or not we kept our earnings. It has only changed in the last 60-80 years that we have been given rights similar to those of men. I say similar, because we have never and probably will never be considered as an equal in certain fields. Obviously we are thought of as experts in birthing, cleaning, and cooking – a.k.a. the stigma surrounding women from a man’s viewpoint. However, when sharing in other job niches with men, we have still come up at a “less than” on a pay scale – by 1994, women were still only earning 71.4% of what men did, although they participated in the same amount of events and did the same amount of work.

Women are also at a large disadvantage while learning. We, as females, are more than 2/3 of the billion people that are illiterate, and 2/3 of the hundred million children that have dropped out of school are girls. (Schultheiss, Katrin, Ph.D, Dept. of Women’s Studies, U of Illinois at Chicago, Microsoft Encarta) We also have far more poverty-stricken women in the world, being that more than 70% of the world’s poor are female. Gender inequities continue in the collegiate division as well, where women are actually provided less scholarships, less in the budgets for the athletic departments, and fewer women receive doctoral degrees than men, which results in less faculty appointments at colleges.

There are rapidly growing numbers of women jailed in the correctional business these days. We have had many women being charged with identity thefts, because they are stealing money, credit cards, and IDs, either to provide for their family, or to support their ever-growing drug habits. This is pointedly ignored by the government, who has decreased spending on drug treatment programs many times in the last ten years, all under the excuse of a recession or insufficient funding from the federal and state level. . However, what they don’t take into account is that 2/3 of the crimes committed by women are drug crimes and non-violent offenses. Some of the problems here that could be solved, but simply are ignored by the correctional business, are the fact that 60% of women who are locked up do not have a high-school education, and more than 50% are unemployed at their time of arrest. Does this not speak of the government’s lack of foresight in putting more money and effort towards higher education and drug treatment?

In the only women’s prison in Oregon, where I am currently incarcerated, Coffee Creek “Correctional” Facility, we have huge disparities in the federal and state budgets doled out to the men and women. We are told that many of the privileges that the men receive are because there is an established trust fund set up for the men’s prisons that provides college-level courses at a very low cost that help the men complete their bachelor’s degrees or associate’s degrees in prison. Apparently the women don’t have the anonymous donors to give us money, because we have no higher education programs available except at a very high cost that not everyone who wants to take courses is able to afford.

We also are not, according to our safety and security manager, Captain Teal, able to participate in the same activities that the men’s institutions are given, because of the fact that our “correctional facility” tag dictates that we are not given the same privileges. This, to me, sounds like a violation of our civil rights. We do not stand up for ourselves because about 80% of the women who come to this prison have been physically, mentally, or sexually abused-and we have never been able to stand up because of our fear of the repercussions.

Coffee Creek Correctional Facility has been open for a little over six years now, and the women that made the move from OWCC were promised by the administrators that their privileges would remain the same as they did when they were in the old prison; i.e. having a recreation room, ice machines, an outdoor area where people could hang out without fear of getting fleas, etc. OWCC was the last prison women were housed before it was condemned $ t down, and then reopened as a men’s minimum facility. Unfortunately, CCCF was built as a transitional intake center for the men to come from county and get processed. Even some of the officers agree that this was never intended for long-term stays and that they should never have put the women here. This place has no room for all the women that they anticipated, and they are constantly “restructuring” so that they have room for all the incoming women. There has been two units added since CCCF opened, and one that is in the process of being opened. Even the segregation had to be expanded with both segregated units having double bunks except for the camera cells where they put the women on suicide watch.

One positive thing about Oregon is that it is mandatory for anyone under the age of 24 to have a GED or diploma when they come into their facilities. Everyone is tested when they come in the prison and if they score low enough on the basic adult learning scale, they are required to take classes and be tutored in whatever subject they have to learn more about (math or reading are the basic tests). Our GED class is brought to us by teachers from Portland Community College, who teach two classes each day for two hours a day, Monday through Thursday. Obviously some of us believe that it isn’t enough, since we came in with our diplomas or degrees and would like to do something with our time other than get in trouble or simply work, which we are also required to do by law (Measure 17 was the culprit for that, requiring everyone who was medically eligible, even pregnant women and 80-year-olds who had already retired, to work).

Most of you have probably never even heard of Measure 11. It is a bill that was passed in 1994 that gave every violent offender a day-for-day sentence, and completely voided every judge’s ability to take into consideration special circumstances for those of us who are first time offenders, or even those of us who simply have witnessed a crime being committed. Take me, for example. I was sentenced to a Measure 11 murder charge, which gave me a day-for day sentence of 25 years before I am eligible to go in front of the parole board. I have never even been arrested before-I was a college student three months before I came to jail and then prison. I had just moved to Oregon two years before, to complete high school with my cousins (having the typical teenage problems with my mother being over-protective and wanting to have more freedom) and graduating from the local high school with a 3.8 GPA. My crime, and obviously the sentences imposed by Measure 11, ruined my life. It is now to the point where I could viably sit here for the rest of my middle years and emerge institutionalized and unable to cope or deal with being free.

Much of the media sensationalism that has happened during Measure 11’s enactment was most likely what changed voters’ opinions about crime. A study done by the Center for Media and Public Affairs found that television coverage of crime more than doubled from 1992 to 1993, while murder coverage tripled during the period, despite the fact that crime rates were essentially unchanged.” [Crime down, media coverage up,” Overcrowded times (April 1994), p.7. (Marc Mauer, Race to Incarcerate, The New Press, p.72)] People were scared that crime would increase and so they panicked and voted for bills that called for retribution instead of rehabilitation. Obviously, had the bills been read over first, things would have been written differently and we wouldn’t have the rate of incarceration in Oregon that we do now.

Note that during the time that this sensationalism and-dare I say scare tactics?-took place, our Measure 11 law that was written by Kevin Mannix was passed. Measure 11 is a piece of literature that spurred voters to put criminals behind bars and promised to keep crime rates down, and it also put first time offenders behind bars for an unthinkable number of years, with no incentive to keep them-or set them in the first place-on the road to recovery. Another piece that snuck in on the end of the Measure 11 vote was Measure 10, which made it so when the bill came up for revote with the citizens, it would take 2/3 of the majority to overturn or even re-write Measure 11. This made it next to impossible to change the statistics that were being created through the over-sentencing of all felons in Oregon.

An 82-year-old man named Loren Parks was the main fundraiser behind Measures 10 and 11, back in 1994. Mr. Parks has given $12 million dollars to initiative campaigns over the last 15 years (that’s $800,000 a year since 1992, people!). He has also given more than $4 million to Kevin Mannix alone for his measures and his running for office (attorney general, governor and Congress, all rejected by our “savvy” voters). He also put $900,000 into a tax-free account for Bill Sizemore, who admitted to two teacher’s union attorneys that he used the money for a car for his wife, part of a time share in Mexico, and other undisclosed spending, according to the Oregonian. He is now under investigation for not reporting taxes for the last three years. On top of all this, he is still planning on running for governor. This has gotten a lot of attention in the local news, which could go either way for him in the elections, depending on how it’s spun. Mr. Parks has reportedly gone to China, according to Kevin Mannix and the Oregonian. The reporter questioned whether Mr. Parks is attempting to avoid the people who are contacting him and wanting interviews regarding Bill Sizemore’s trial and charges and whether or not the allegations are true.

One odd thing that pointedly stood out in the article about Mr. Parks was the fact that he moved to Nevada and has lived there since 2002. It’s a mystery why he continues to donate money to Kevin Mannix and Bill Sizemore’s campaigns and special interests., as he doesn’t live here in Oregon any more. I will continue to update you on the situations written about here, as some friends and I are looking further into the matter. The only conclusion that we can reach about all the money that he has donated is that he owns a medical equipment company here in Oregon and that he simply wants to support the continual cycle of “catch and release” for Oregon’s felons.

The cycle could be changed, however, by things as simple as using money spent on certain measures and bills to gain support and public attention for rehabilitation instead of long prison terms. This would then focus the state’s attention on drug and alcohol treatment for people who are doing long sentences-since those people need it just as much, if not more than people with short-term sentences-and programs that help long-term prisoners become re-integrated with their communities before they are released.

Any classes that could be added would be welcomed and used to the fullest of their extent by most of the long-term prisoners here. However, the state cites “lack of funding” to us, but of course, they have millions of dollars to build more prisons. Unfortunately, they have no justification for that and no real reason that they have kept imprisoning people who should simply be put into in-patient treatment facilities that would do a world more good than being jailed or imprisoned.

Obviously I am frustrated by the state’s lack of attention to its future inhabitants. If anyone out there has any kind of information that they feel might help me in my fight to bring justice to mandatory minimum sentences, or any kind words they want to share with me about what positive things that are happening in their states, please feel free to share them with me. I want to change this state to get real help for incarcerated peoples, be it men or women. It is senseless and imprudent for someone to sit behind bars with a sentence such as mine and to do or say nothing to speak out against it. I hope that all of you are inspired by my words and that you will fight the good fight to bring justice and freedom for everyone, including the political prisoners that are being held without cause. There are inequities in every state that I have seen so far-the crack laws of California, life without parole for the 77 juveniles in Florida, and the 2,300 other young people that are being held for life without parole in other states around the U.S.. A note to them: do not give up hope! There will come a day that you will see free land once again. My hope is that Mr. Obama will be the one to do that for you all. I will continue to send my prayers to you in hopes that you will soon be free.

Thanks to everyone for listening!
Danielle Cox
24499 SW Grahams Ferry Rd.
Wilsonville, OR 97070

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