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Examining the multifaceted impacts of drug decriminalization on public safety, law enforcement, and prosecutorial discretion

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $495,596)

The proposed project will examine the effects of Oregon Measure 110 - Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative (2020). This is the most recent criminal justice reform policy to reduce the enforcement and punishment of low-level drug possession. The measure reclassified possession of a controlled substance
(PCS)―specifically heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines―from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E violation resulting in a $100 fine or a completed health assessment. Researchers will examine the multifaceted impact of decriminalization of PCS on law enforcement, prosecution, courts, public safety, and public health. Variables include arrest and referral to prosecution, decision to file and charging, citations, drug court referrals, convictions, rearrests, revocation, crime rates, overdoses and drug-related hospital admissions. The project combines a retrospective analysis of relevant policies with a prospective, mixed-method, quasi experimental design for longitudinal assessment of these impacts between 2008 and 2024. Researchers will also conduct a survey of law enforcement, and interviews with law enforcement officers and prosecutors, to understand decision-making processes and contextualize quantitative data trends. They will examine the how and why of observed effects in relation to prior state reforms (2014 Justice Reinvestment, 2017 defelonization of PCS), county adaptations to the reforms, COVID-19 effects, and changes in system responses versus in criminal behavior. Quantitative research plans entail a statewide analysis for between-county differences. Plans also include a within county analysis in 8 counties, both urban and rural with high PCS and other arrest rates, and individual level analysis in those counties. Researchers will obtain several archival datasets. These include arrest data from the Law Enforcement Data System via the Criminal Justice Commission (CJC); circuit court data from the Odyssey system via the Oregon Judicial Department; supervision and incarceration data from the Department of Corrections system (via CJC); and overdose and health services data from the Oregon Health Authority system. They will apply interrupted time-series to model the immediate, lagged, and decaying effects of each reform. Generalized linear mixed models will provide an estimated effect of the intervention over time while accounting for multiple other time-variant and -invariant measures. Propensity score models will examine the successive reform impacts on offenders charged with PCS and similar crimes to isolate the effects on the system and individuals, such as in sentencing and recidivism patterns. Qualitative research plans include an email survey of state, county, and municipal police officers on perceptions regarding past PCS changes, and current implementation of Measure 110. The researchers have support from the Oregon State Sheriffs Association and the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police. Also, researchers will conduct 50 or more interviews with police officers, sheriff’s deputies, line prosecutors and district attorneys, with at least 6 interviews in each of the 8 counties. Dissemination will include the applicant’s website, research publications, conference presentations, and briefings to the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association and other key stakeholder meetings organized by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission. Options include an NIJ Journal article. "Note: This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law," and complies with Part 200 Uniform Requirements - 2 CFR  200.210(a)(14). CA/NCF

Date Created: October 21, 2021