While Ballot Measure 110 offers Oregonians charged with drug crimes a treatment option in lieu of prison, many are no-shows for court

While the passage of Ballot Measure 110 in 2020 offered Oregonians charged with drug offenses treatment options as an alternative to a stint in prison, many people are not seeking treatment.

 

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Phil Lemman, Deputy State Court Administrator with the Oregon Judicial Department, gave an update on Ballot Measure 110 incentives during a Senate Interim Committee on Judiciary and Ballot Measure 110 Implementation meeting on Wednesday. 

Ballot Measure 110passed by voters in November 2020 and implemented by Senate Bill 755 the following year—decriminalized the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs, and diverted some marijuana tax dollars to a grant program. The grant program established addiction and recovery centers where residents can get free assessments and referrals to health care services. It also created a new Class E violation for drug offenses, in which a person can complete a screening within 45 days of being issued a citation in lieu of a fine. 

Those charged attend specialty courts. The state’s specialty courts include 29 adult drug courts, 20 mental health courts, 9 family treatment courts, 5 veterans treatment courts, 4 juvenile drug courts, and 2 driving under the influence of intoxicants courts. 

“Drug courts are now focusing on people at high risk with high needs,” Lemman said. “And they use an intensive, incentive-based process to help people address their criminal behaviors and substance abuse disorders. People with criminal histories and serious substance abuse needs, instead of facing a prison sentence, can be diverted into these courts where they get treatment [and] intensive supervision. It is a collaborative effort with law enforcement and the treatment side. It is a wraparound approach where the court has a variety of tools to ensure people are moving forward with their treatment and making progress.”

There is no penalty for failure to appear in court, however. Lemman said the state had 3,486 Class E charges filed in circuit courts between Feb. 1st, 2021 (which was the effective date of Measure 110), and Sept. 18th. 

“About 79% of those charges have resulted in convictions,” Lemman said. “And of those convictions, about 70% were the result of failure to appear in court. And Senate Bill 755 established there is no sanction for a failure to appear on a Class E charge.” 

About 8% of the Class E violations have been dismissed, while 12.5% of charges are still pending.

Sen. Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer) asked if those who attend drug courts would likely have attended them if Ballot Measure 110 was not in place.

“I don’t think we can categorically say ‘No, these people would not be in,’ but I think it would be a very small percentage,” Lemman said. “When you have a violation, nobody screams their risk and need. Making it a violation does not fit well with the drug court model. Drug courts are resource intensive. You have a judge, a coordinator, law enforcement, a defense attorney, treatment professionals. It’s a team that focuses a lot of effort on these individuals. So they work best when the participant is there voluntarily, is engaged, and has all those support services wrapped around them.”

Thatcher asked how officials could make treatment a more attractive option for those who do not show interest in it.  

“We need to coordinate our efforts on the behavioral health, the ticketing, to make it actually work,” Thatcher said. “It doesn’t feel like it’s working. It [seems] like the people who are needing this treatment are not seeking it out.”

Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen said procedures related to Ballot Measure 110 make treatment more accessible than it had previously been for some Oregonians.

“The challenge we’ve faced historically is people do seek treatment at various times when they’re in a place where that makes sense for them,” Allen said. “And too often, the answer has been, ‘Come back in 2 weeks, or we may have a slot for you in a month.’ What this shift in funding in Measure 110 is doing, for the first time, is help position us to meet people’s needs when they’re at that treatable moment. I think this is an important step toward building out the system. That’s not something we’ve been historically able to do.”