Multnomah County, OR

Summary

Over the past two decades, Multnomah County has continually reduced reliance on jail. This work was accelerated with support from the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, which launched important investments in jail diversion, support for communities with disproportionate impacted by the justice system, and improvements to the public safety system. Since joining the Challenge in 2015, the County has safely reduced jail use by 10% — despite the county’s growing population and insufficient housing and behavioral health resources.

Notable initiatives and strategies launched since 2015 include:

  • Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD®), a pre-booking diversion program that allows police officers to redirect low-level justice-involved individuals arrested for drug activity to intensive case management tailored to the individual’s needs instead of jail and prosecution.
  • The Diane Wade House, a culturally specific transitional housing program for adult women involved in the criminal justice system in Multnomah County — with a focus on Black and African American women.
  • Improving system efficiency, such as court processing timelines for probation violations, competency evaluations, and decreasing use of jail for individuals on probation.

To build on past efforts, Multnomah County was awarded an additional $2 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge in 2020, which includes $125,000 in funding for community engagement. This grant will be used to further implement strategies that address the main drivers of the local pretrial 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 safely reducing the jail population and address racial and ethnic disparities, the County plans to continue work on eight of its original 13 strategies and implement two new strategies focused on the pretrial system. Specific focus areas will include pretrial release policies, identifying the pretrial risk assessment best suited to local needs, and streamlining decision-making.

  • Despite the continual reduction in jail use over the past two decades, there remains an over-reliance on incarceration for justice-involved individuals.
  • The overall jail population is composed of people experiencing increasingly severe mental health challenges.
  • Individuals with acute behavioral health needs tend to stay in jail longer than intended while awaiting appropriate community-based treatment and services.
  • It’s estimated that 33% of adults in custody suffer from mental health challenges; 50% report struggling with housing, and 50% have substance abuse challenges.
  • The misuse of the jail takes an especially heavy toll on people of color. A 2019 report by the W. Haywood Burns Institute noted that while the rate at which people of color are involved in the justice system in Multnomah County decreased from 2014 to 2019 at several key decision points, the rate of pretrial jail increased for all groups except Native Americans. The disparity gap at several key decision points also increased.
  • Continue implementing existing strategies aimed at addressing system inefficiencies, meeting the needs of those with behavioral health issues, and instituting non-jail options for justice-involved individuals who pose low-risk.
  • Complete a comprehensive pretrial system assessment.
  • Develop and implement new strategies aimed at improving the pretrial system in Multnomah County, using grant funds to hire staff to implement proposed improvements.
  • Work collaboratively with the community to address racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system.
  • Pursue measures to reduce racial and ethnic disparities, engage community members and those with lived experiences, and improve pretrial justice.

Supported with an additional $2 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge, Multnomah County will implement forward-looking, smart solutions, to further reduce the local jail population by 5.8% over the next two years. This work will result in an overall jail reduction goal of 14.4% while keeping the jail population at 85% of current budgeted capacity — consistent with a safe and well-managed facility.

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