A team of University of Oregon alumni and students recently completed a year-and-a-half review of Oregon Measure 11 and its disproportionate impact on communities of color. The result is “Public Plea,” a five-part television documentary and podcast series produced with collaborative support from Oregon Public Broadcasting, The Oregonian and Willamette Week.
Measure 11 was approved by voters in Oregon in 1994, during the “crackdown on crime” era. He created mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes without the possibility of review or parole. Minors aged 15 and over were tried as adults according to the offense.
The project chronicles the fate of Ricky Gaters, who at 17 was arrested and arrested by Portland police investigating a nearby gang-related shooting. Gaters maintains he was not involved and the evidence linking him to the crime was inconclusive. However, to reduce his sentence from 20 years or more to 10 years, he pleaded guilty to previous minor crimes.
In 2019, legislative reforms removed the application of Measure 11 on minors, returning discretion to judges, but the changes were not made retroactive.
Four years after the start of his 10-year sentence, Gaters seeks post-conviction redress, a legal process that could potentially release him.
In October 2021, Gov. Kate Brown released a new commutation plan, which allows some people serving time for crimes committed while underage to be eligible to seek parole or be released.
“Public Plea” examines the issue from different angles, including interviews with minors, reform and victim rights advocates, defense lawyers, prosecutors, lawmakers, academics, social workers and a criminologist. .
“After the George Floyd tragedy, like many Americans, I asked myself how I could contribute to the public debate on criminal justice and possible reforms? It was then that I discovered Oregon Measure 11 and its negative impact on communities of color, ”said Ed Madison, executive producer of the project. Madison is an Associate Professor and Head of Media Partnerships at the UO School of Journalism and Communications, and he was one of the founding producers of CNN. UO alumnus Jordan Bentz is the project’s producer, videographer and editor. They assembled a team of nine other alumni and current students to complete the eighteen-month project.
Listen to the podcast series and learn more about the project on PublicPlea.net. The documentary will air on OPB on February 7 at 9 p.m.
Casey winbush is an emerging and senior reporter in the School of Journalism and Communications at the University of Oregon. Currently, she and five other UO students are in New Orleans, Louisiana, exploring stories of how successive hurricanes, an oil spill and Covid-19 negatively affect communities of color.