Young Adults Speak: Now Free, Two Oregonians See Progress in Sentencing Reform

Posted October 4, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Noah Schultz and Robert White

From left: Noah Schultz and Robert White

Ore­gon recent­ly joined oth­er states in recon­sid­er­ing decades-old poli­cies that treat youth as adults ― elim­i­nat­ing manda­to­ry trans­fer to adult court and shift­ing dis­cre­tion back to judges, enabling them to con­sid­er each youth as an indi­vid­ual who is capa­ble of tremen­dous growth and change. The reforms reverse many ele­ments of the state’s Mea­sure 11, a manda­to­ry sen­tenc­ing law that required youth age 15 or old­er charged with cer­tain crimes to be waived to adult court, giv­en prison terms and deprived of ear­ly release for earned time and good behavior.

The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion asked two young Ore­go­ni­ans who came of age in the sys­tem under Mea­sure 11 to reflect on the last­ing neg­a­tive effects they still face — in their 20s — as a result of their manda­to­ry trans­fer to adult court as teens. Noah Schultz was charged and sen­tenced under Mea­sure 11, and Robert White accept­ed a plea that exempt­ed him from the require­ments of the law but left him with an adult sen­tence of 61 months and an adult felony record. The two men, for­mer mem­bers of the Foundation’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Youth Advi­so­ry Coun­cil, also com­ment on where Ore­gon is now.

Q: How did the lack of judi­cial dis­cre­tion under the orig­i­nal Mea­sure 11 affect you personally?

Schultz: The sto­ry of the per­son was com­plete­ly dis­re­gard­ed. Even if the judge was com­pas­sion­ate, it didn’t mat­ter. My judge would have rec­om­mend­ed 60 months with good time, but I got 90 months.

White: Manda­to­ry min­i­mum sen­tenc­ing start­ed at 70 months. Sev­en­ty months. At that time, that was a quar­ter of my life being tak­en from me.

Q: What con­se­quences have you expe­ri­enced because of your adult felony record?

White: I have hous­ing restric­tions, job restric­tions. Nation­al groups saw me for what I could be, but in Ore­gon I still had a com­pa­ny say I could­n’t work at any of their stores. Now I have to pay parole fees. They start­ed gar­nish­ing my wages. It’s been four years, and I’m still fac­ing dif­fer­ent bar­ri­ers that are com­ing up. It goes on forever.

Schultz: When I got out, it alarmed me to see how many peo­ple who I was real­ly close with in prison, who did every sin­gle thing they were sup­posed to do, but still strug­gled when it came to hous­ing, employ­ment and oth­er ser­vices after they were released.

Q: What is your view of the juve­nile jus­tice reform effort in Oregon?

Schultz: A lot of our friends who were giv­en extreme­ly long sen­tences are still in adult prison. I do think this [reform effort] is progress. But there’s still a long way to go.

White: It’s still a racial divide. I’m still see­ing my black and brown broth­ers being cru­ci­fied by the sys­tem, not being giv­en the ben­e­fit of the doubt.

Q: What needs to change in juve­nile justice?

White: We need to start look­ing at the root issues. Instead of invest­ing $100,000 to put a young per­son behind bars, we can invest $100,000 in after-school programs.

Schultz: What I would real­ly like to see is rein­vest­ment in the com­mu­ni­ties that real­ly need sup­port. And to keep youth in the community…a com­plete redesign of the system.

Robert White is a pro­fes­sion­al men­tor at Port­land Oppor­tu­ni­ty Indus­tri­al­iza­tion Cen­ter and Rose­mary Ander­son High School’s Com­mu­ni­ty Heal­ing Ini­tia­tive. White was a youth part­ner­ship con­sul­tant with the Foun­da­tion and par­tic­i­pant at the Coali­tion for Juve­nile Justice’s nation­al youth sum­mit for emerg­ing lead­ers. Noah Schultz cur­rent­ly sup­ports youth through cul­tur­al art pro­grams at Mor­pheus Youth Project.

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