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Oregon's Measure 11 Sentencing Reform: Implementation and System Impact

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 2003
154 pages

This study examined the implementation and impact of the passage of Oregon's 1994 Measure 11, which imposed long mandatory prison terms for 16 designated violent and sex-related offenses, prohibited "earned time," and provided for mandatory waiver of youthful offenders to adult court.


Data collection drew upon a number of State-level databases and interviews with State and county stakeholders to answer key questions about how the measure was developed, its relationship to the existing sentencing practices in the State, impacts on the types of sentences imposed, admissions to prison, and sentence lengths imposed, as well as how sentencing practices changed for both adults and juveniles. Prosecutor data were not available during the study's time frame. The study found that although impact projections for Measure 11 (M11)were based on the assumption of full implementation, meaning that every case determined to meet the legal criteria of the measures would be so prosecuted, in fact prosecutors used their discretion to determine which cases would be fully prosecuted under the law. Without exception, prosecutors interviewed in the study acknowledged that the measure should not be applied in every eligible case and that the measure, as written, involves overly long mandatory minimum sentences for many of the cases brought before the prosecutor. The frequency of trials for both M11-eligible and M11-alternate offenses increased for only a short period following passage of the measure. There was a lasting shift, however, in plea patterns. The frequency with which "plea to original charge" and "plea with charges dropped" are used has declined, while the frequency of "plea to a lesser included offense" has increased. This indicates an increased tendency to reduce M11-eligible charges to M11-alternate charges. Although non-White offenders composed a disproportionate percentage of the M11-eligible population, this trend is also reflected in the M11-alternate and other felony categories; there is thus no evidence that Measure 11 has exacerbated minority overrepresentation in harsh sentences. The study also found that the proportion of offenders convicted of and admitted to prison for M11-eligible offenses decreased while the proportion of M11-alternate sentences and admissions increased following implementation of the measure. Simultaneously, sentence lengths increased within both offense categories, providing further evidence that M11-eligible cases deemed inappropriate for Measure 11 sanctions were being pled down to M11-alternatives. Although the study findings are consistent with the possibility that Measure 11 may have been at least partly responsible for a decrease in Oregon's crime rates, particularly for violent crime, after 1995, there was no clear evidence of a causal link. Overall, Measure 11 can be considered a success, in that it has achieved its intended goal of increasing the length of prison sentences for offenders convicted of M11-eligible offenses; however, fewer offenders have been sentenced for these offenses since passage of the measure; a greater proportion have been sentenced for M11-alternate offenses. Extensive tables and figures, 53 references, and appended test of Measure 11 and subsequent Measure 11-related legislation

Date Published: December 1, 2003