Governor Charles H. Martin's Administration

Governor's Letter, 1937


January 29, 1937.

To the Honorable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives of the Thirty-ninth Legislative Assembly.


In accordance with the provisions of Article V, Section 14, of the Oregon Constitution and Section 13-1804 of the Oregon Code of 1930, I herewith am reporting to the legislative assembly all cases of reprieves, commutations and pardons granted by me since I took office as Governor. In view of the decision of the Oregon Supreme Court on January 19,1937, in the case of Fell v. Martin, that “a parole is a conditional pardon”, I am likewise reporting to you all parole cases.

From January 14, 1935, to date, I have granted eight commutations of sentences, 21 conditional pardons to inmates of our penitentiary, 208 paroles, 128 pardons restoring civil rights, 41 county jail conditional pardons and no reprieves. I have revoked 19 conditional pardons and 72 paroles.

Of the eight commutations, seven were cases of men sentenced to the state penitentiary for terms of six months or eight months. These penitentiary sentences were commuted to sentences in the county jail, as it is not my intention that our penitentiary shall be used by local officials as a county jail. In the eighth case, on recommendation of the sentencing judge and other officials, I commuted a sentence of 7.5 years in the penitentiary to four years after the convict on parole had demonstrated over a period of 19 months an ability to become a good citizen.

Of the 21 conditional pardons, four were granted for deportation purposes; three were granted to enable the convicts to stand trail for serious crimes committed in another state and on condition that if acquitted that should be returned to the Oregon State Penitentiary. One was hanged for murder; a second received a life sentence on a murder charge; and the third is now on trial in California. Two inmates were granted conditional pardons in order that they might receive hospital treatment and upon receiving the treatment were returned to the penitentiary. Seven sex offenders were granted conditional pardons after they had submitted to treatment prescribed by the State Board of Eugenics. Two conditional pardons were granted to enable boys of 18 years to accept forestry employment. In one case in which the sentencing judge had sent a convict to eh penitentiary for failure to pay a $250 fine, a conditional pardon was granted by me upon payment of the fine after the inmate had served half of his 3-year sentence in the penitentiary. A conditional pardon was granted also in recognition of good time to one inmate to enable him to accept work in California. The final conditional pardon was granted upon the recommendation of the trial judge and other officials to an inmate who had served nine years of a 15-year sentence and whose conduct in the penitentiary had been exemplary.

The 208 paroles were all granted on recommendation of the State Parole Board to first offenders guilty of less serious crimes. Of this number, 38 were maximum paroles in recognition of good time served and were granted after the ruling of the courts in the Fell case in April, 1936. Four paroles were granted after the inmates had submitted treatment prescribed by the State Board of Eugenics. Many of the paroles were given on the express condition that the inmate depart at once from the state of Oregon and not return during the life of the parole.

During the past two years I have revoked 19 conditional pardons and 72 paroles. None of the conditional pardons were granted by me and only 25 of the 72 paroles were given during my administration. These revocations were due in 95 per cent of the cases to the commission of a subsequent criminal offense while on parole or conditional pardon.

A check of the records by our very efficient parole officer, E.M. Duffy, in October 1935, disclosed that there were four prisoners in the penitentiary for the commission of subsequent criminal offense while still technically “out of parole” for a prior crime. At the same time 16 other Oregon parolees were found to be serving time in other penal institutions and 11 former inmates of the Oregon penitentiary were serving time in other penal institutions while out on conditional pardons from Oregon. These paroles and conditional pardons were at once revoked by me. The situation herein presented demonstrates the utter inadequacy of the “supervision” now being given to those receiving clemency under the existing Oregon parole system. Our state parole officer, able and conscientious as he is, cannot be expected in addition to his other important duties to maintain contacts with some 225 released criminals in a state as large as ours. It may be said definitely that once a man walks out of our penitentiary on parole or conditional pardon all effective supervision over him ceases. Lack of such supervision is false economy which is paid for by our people many times over in the cost of further criminal depredations by those receiving clemency.

First offenders who have fully completed their sentences and who have demonstrated on parole an ability to become good citizens are entitled under our system to pardons restoring their civil rights upon the expiration of the full period of sentence. On hundred twenty-eight such pardons have been granted by me during the past two years.

Included in the record are 41 county jail conditional pardons, which were granted by me uniformly on the recommendation of the sentencing judge and other officials to person guilty of minor offenses. Clemency was granted in at least half of these cases to enable the recipient to support his dependents who might otherwise become charges upon the public relief.

The following chart, showing the number of paroles and conditional pardons granted by the Governors of Oregon during the past 25 years and prepared by J.S. Murray, secretary of the State Parole Board, is of interest:

Governors Paroles/Conditional Pardons

West 504/181

Withycombe 633/162

Olcott 486/43

Ritner 28/27

Pierce 433/135

Patterson 443/25

Norblad 184/21

Meier 809/127

Martin 208/21

Totals 3,738/742

Annual Average for past 25 years 149.52/29.68                                       

I want at this time to particularly commend the fine and devoted effort of the members of our State Parole Board, consisting of W.H. Treece, of Portland, chairman, Dr. Floyd L. Utter, of Salem, vice chairman, and my private secretary, W.L. Gosslin. No parole board in recent years has demonstrated a higher devotion to duty or greater care in protecting the public. There has been no major improvement in the Oregon parole system for more than a generation and our system is admittedly antiquated. In recommending paroles, the board is compelled to act upon inadequate information. Its decisions must therefore be based upon guesswork and as the board realized the utter inadequacy of our so-called “supervision” of parolees it has been compelled to adopt a very strict attitude in recommending paroles. Under this administration, less than one-third of those who are legally eligible for parole have been granted clemency. When it is recalled that each inmate denied parole costs our taxpayers $250 for each year of his further incarceration, it must be apparent that the present Oregon parole system results in false economy.

One of the serious problems faced by the parole board is the variance in sentences imposed by our 28 circuit judges for essentially similar offenses. Many instances were disclosed where for practically identical crimes sentences received varied from 1 to 20 years in the state penitentiary. This system naturally creates in the minds of all thinking people the belief that those who have received the severer sentences have been unjustly treated. These evils can only be corrected by imposing upon one central authority the duty to adjust prison terms within broad limits to be determined by the trial judge. Thereby, uniform punishment will be meted out for crimes of the same degree.

Respectfully yours,

Charles H. Martin


State Archives • 800 Summer St. NE • Salem, OR 97310

Phone: 503-373-0701 • Fax: 503-378-4118 • reference.archives@state.or.us