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.