Billy Anfield, advocacy coordinator for Central City Concern’s Flip the Script program, experienced Oregon’s supervision program and now helps people returning from prison. (Photo provided via Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Billy Anfield spent years feeling like someone was walking behind him everywhere he went, watching and waiting for the chance to put him behind bars.

Anfield, 74, is now the advocacy coordinator for Central City Concern’s Flip the Script program, helping Black people released from prison find housing, health care, employment and support they need as they reintegrate into their communities. He has worked at the Portland nonprofit for more than 30 years.

As a young man, he experimented and became addicted to drugs and made other poor decisions, spending about 20 years in and out of the criminal justice system. Addiction treatment in the 1980s helped Anfield turn things around, but he struggled with remaining on court-ordered supervision, his life under a microscope.

He couldn’t drink alcohol or associate with anyone else who had been convicted. He had to live and work in a certain area, and at one point he had a curfew. His supervising officer came to his job to verify his employment a couple times, embarrassing him in front of coworkers who started avoiding him after those visits. 

“It feels as though you’re still incarcerated,” Anfield said. “You just don’t have the bars. They’re invisible.”

Anfield’s supervision lasted for years after he had rebuilt relationships with his family, found a steady job and felt grounded in his recovery. Through his work, Anfield has interacted with other people in the same situation, who have rebuilt their lives after returning from incarceration but remain tied to the criminal justice system because of post-prison supervision. 

A bill passed by the Oregon Legislature this week could give thousands of Oregonians opportunities to shorten their post-prison supervision. If signed by Gov. Tina Kotek, Senate Bill 581 would expand the statewide earned discharge program, which now lets people on probation, people who served sentences in local jails and people whose prison sentences began on or after Jan. 1, 2022, reduce their supervision by up to half if they meet goals. 

The measure would allow nearly 5,000 people who were sentenced before Jan. 1, 2022, to qualify for earned discharge. It wouldn’t affect prison sentences, just the supervision period after a person finishes their sentence. 

“It’s really an opportunity for the correction system to provide a carrot instead of just a stick for accountability,” said Shannon Wight, deputy director of the Portland-based Partnership for Safety and Justice.

To qualify for earned discharge, people need to have paid any restitution or fines or have a payment plan in place, completed treatment programs and have followed rules of their supervision program. Anyone who commits another crime while on supervision isn’t eligible. 

Rep. Jason Kropf, a Bend Democrat who previously worked as a public defender and prosecutor, said during debate on the House floor on Wednesday that the criminal justice system should encourage people who have committed crimes to do better.

“When we have a subset of people who are on supervision who take these corrective actions, who take themselves from a place where they found themselves in the criminal justice system and have moved away from committing crimes and moved away from addiction and moved away from causing future harm, we have to acknowledge that,” Kropf said. “We have to support that.”

Legislative action

The measure passed the Senate on a 23-6 vote on March 1 with a handful of Republicans and one independent senator joining Democrats in supporting it. It squeaked out of the House on a 31-28 vote Wednesday, as four Democrats representing swing districts joined every Republican in voting against the measure. 

Rep. Lily Morgan, R-Grants Pass and a former parole and probation officer, said she would have supported the measure if it hadn’t allowed people convicted of second-degree robbery and assault to qualify for earned discharge. Those are among the crimes covered by Measure 11, a 1994 voter-approved law that set mandatory minimum sentences for serious offenses. 

“I am somebody that believes that you reward and you incentivize, but we’re continuing to erode the accountability and more importantly the supports that are in place for supervision,” Morgan said. 

Since 2013, Oregon has provided the opportunity for people on probation or who had served sentences in local jails to reduce the time they were expected to spend on supervision. A 2021 law expanded that opportunity to people who served time in state prisons, but only those who were sentenced on or after Jan. 1, 2022.

Few people have taken advantage of the 2021 expansion, but more than 9,200 people have earned an early discharge from supervision since 2013, according to legislative researchers. About 8,800 of those people haven’t had any further interactions with the criminal justice system. 

“This program has shown that we are identifying the right individuals who have maximized all the benefits of supervision, have shown a willingness to change their behavior and are living a different life and we’re seeing positive outcomes for that,” said Jeremiah Stromberg, assistant director of the Department of Corrections’ Community Corrections Division. 

Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Julia Shumway, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.