Multnomah County, OR

Summary

Multnomah County has made a significant investment in jail diversion, improving public safety, and increasing support for populations with disproportionate jail use. Over the past 18 years, Multnomah County has reduced the local jail population by 42%—a period when the county’s overall population increased by 17%. Notable initiatives include: the Portland Police Bureau Behavioral Health Unit collaborative, which works on improving law enforcement responses for people with behavioral health issues through crisis intervention and service coordination; Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), a pre-booking diversion program that allows police officers to redirect low-level offenders involved in drug activity to intensive case management tailored to the individual’s needs instead of jail and prosecution; and collaboration with the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law that led to a more efficient and streamlined mental health crisis system.

To build on past efforts, Multnomah County was awarded $2 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge in 2017 to implement strategies that address the main drivers of the local jail population, including unfair and ineffective practices that take a particularly heavy toll on people of color, low-income communities, and people with mental health and substance abuse issues.

To continue reducing the jail population safely, the county plans to implement 12 new strategies aimed at addressing system inefficiencies, meeting the needs of those with behavioral health needs, and instituting non-jail options for lower-risk offenders. This will include the rollout of an innovative program for women with mental health challenges and a new pre-booking diversion effort aimed at expanding alternatives to jail.

  • Individuals with behavioral health issues are overrepresented in Multnomah County jails, with over 40% of the population identified as having a mental health issue.
  • Despite reducing the Multnomah County jail population by 42% over the past 18 years, there is still an over-reliance on incarceration for low-risk, non-violent offenders.
  • Individuals with acute behavioral health needs tend to get stuck in jail longer than intended while awaiting appropriate community-based treatment and services.
  • The misuse of the jail takes an especially heavy toll on people of color. Despite making up an estimated 6% of the local population, African Americans make up 29% of the jail population (most recent statistic provided to the MacArthur Foundation on June 30, 2016).
  • Implement 12 strategies aimed at addressing system inefficiencies, meeting the needs of those with behavioral health issues, and instituting non-jail options for lower-risk offenders.
  • Develop and implement an innovative program for justice-involved women with mental health challenges that offers individually-tailored programming and services to meet the unique needs of this group.
  • Over the next two years the county will employ:

    — an increased focus on offender risk, need, and responsivity;
    — more forensically-responsive treatment;
    — new prosecutor diversion alternatives;
    — improved jail-based mental health intervention; and
    — measures to reduce racial and ethnic disparities.

Supported with $2 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge, Multnomah County will implement forward-looking, smart solutions, to further reduce the local jail population by 15% over the next two years.

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