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Straight Talk: Oregon inmates who committed serious crimes as teens get chance for early release through governor’s clemency order

Marion County’s DA said the process completely ignored victims and their families. Youth justice advocates argue the action corrects mistreatment of young people.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Hundreds of Oregon inmates who committed serious crimes as juveniles could get out of prison early as the result of a youth clemency order from Gov. Kate Brown.

Her order effectively makes Senate Bill 1008, passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2019, retroactive. That bill reformed the juvenile justice system. It eliminated life without parole sentences for youth and gives them a "second look" hearing for possible release after serving half their sentences. The law went into effect in 2020. The governor used her clemency powers to give offenders who committed crimes before that a chance to benefit from the new law.

Gabe Newland, the director and managing attorney of the Oregon Justice Resource Center's Youth Justice Project applauded the governor's action. He said it brings Oregon more in line with the science that says the part of the brain that controls impulse isn't fully developed in adolescents, and that the adolescent is likely to change as an adult.

"The governor is giving people a chance to prove the harm they caused as kids, however serious that harm is, doesn't reflect the character of the adult they have become now," Newland said.

RELATED: Thurston High School shooter speaks out for first time, expresses 'tremendous shame and guilt'

Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson opposed SB 1008 and is disappointed Gov. Brown made it retroactive. She said it doesn't adequately take into account the voice of the victims and their families, or public safety. She said the bill was passed with a promise it wouldn't be retroactive.

“And that we wouldn't be dredging up old violent cases and picking the scab off of old wounds for victims who believed their case was long finalized... It completely ignores victims in the process," Clarkson said.

Newland and Clarkson were guests in this week's episode of Straight Talk. They discussed how the governor's order impacts victims, why Newland would like to see the legislature expand SB 1008 to include offenders who committed crimes under the age of 25, and why Thurston High School shooter Kip Kinkel wasn't included in the governor's order.

Watch the full episode:

Straight Talk airs Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 6:30 p.m., and Sunday at 9:30 p.m.

Straight Talk is also available as a podcast.

RELATED: Portland nonprofit provides free services to expunge juvenile records