PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Black adults in custody are receiving a disproportionate amount of misconduct citations, and adults with mental health conditions are being disproportionately subjected to more frequent use of force at the Multnomah County Jail, according to an audit released Wednesday. 

Multnomah County Auditor Jennifer McGuirk issued the audit report titled “Multnomah County Jail Conditions: Circumstances were Worse for Adults in Custody who are Black and/or Have Mental Health Conditions.” For the report, the audit team analyzed data spanning the three-year period of July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2021. 

In those three years, the team found that misconduct citations were handed out disproportionately to Black adults in custody. They also found that Black adults in custody were subjected to minor uses of force, such as someone pointing a Taser at them or using handcuffs, infrequently, but at a rate that was disproportionate to other adults in custody. 

More pronounced were the rates of uses of force toward adults with mental health conditions. The report found force was used more frequently and disproportionately against adults in custody with mental health conditions. 

“Through this audit, my office is providing more transparency to the public about the jail operations we all pay for as taxpayers,” McGuirk said. “We hope the information in this audit report can help ground conversations about our legal system in facts that the public can trust.” 

The audit also found that the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office’s decisions on where people were housed were not as standardized and consistent as they could have been. 

The auditor’s office said it conducted the audit to provide an update on jail conditions. In 2017, county leaders pledged to make improvements to the jails based on a Disability Rights Oregon report that found improper conditions for people with mental health conditions. A 2015 report prepared internally by the sheriff’s office also found that sheriff’s staff subjected some racial and ethnic groups to a disproportionate use of force. 

During the three-year period it reviewed, the auditing team learned there were 656 use-of-force incidents in jail housing areas and that deputies often used more than one use of force technique per incident. 

The report found that sheriff’s employees used force on Black people more than people of any other racial background. Particularly with minor use of force, the difference in how frequently it was used on Black people in custody was statistically significant. Black adults in custody were more than twice as likely to be subjected to minor use of force. 

General use of force data, which is a higher level of force, did not show any statistically significant differences among racial groups. 

Corrections staff also gave misconduct citations at a higher rate to Black adults in custody. 

An audit report released by the Multnomah County Auditor’s Office on April 27, 2022, found Black individuals in the Multnomah County Jail were receiving misconduct citations at a higher rate than white adults in custody. Image courtesy Multnomah County

In a survey conducted among inmates for the report, Black adults in custody and those who did not disclose their race said they felt the least safe with corrections deputies. 

The audit team also found that deputies used general force on people with mental health conditions about nine times more frequently than adults in custody who did not have a mental health condition. Minor uses of force occurred about six times more frequently to people who had a mental health condition. 

An audit report released by the Multnomah County Auditor’s Office on April 27, 2022, found people in custody with mental health conditions were subjected to minor uses of force by deputies nine times more frequently than adults in custody who did not have a mental health condition. Image courtesy Multnomah County

Based on its findings, the auditor’s office has more than a dozen recommendations for the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. Some of the recommendations may require financial resources in order to implement them. 

In the near future, no later than September 30, 2022, the auditor recommends the following: 

  1. Delay full classification interviews for adults in custody moving into housing until 72 hours after booking.
  2. Expand supervisory review of classification decisions, with a focus on possible over-classification.
  3. Eliminate the use of isolation as a disciplinary sanction for individuals with mental health conditions. 

By March 30, 2023, the auditor recommends the sheriff’s office do the following: 

  1. Develop and implement a training program designed to reinforce the goal of informal solutions to discipline issues and to reduce the need for misconduct citations.
  2. Monitor deputies’ use of misconduct citations.
  3. Implement a use of force data collection system that will facilitate analysis of use of force incidents to identify patterns and training priorities.
  4. Contract with professionals in training on cultural competency as well as identifying and managing race-related implicit bias.  
  5. Eliminate the use of disciplinary sanctions that involve isolation.
  6. Expand training for deputies on how to work with adults in custody with mental health conditions.
  7. Expand the number of housing areas specifically for individuals with mental health conditions.
  8. Revise procedures for planned use of force activities involving individuals with mental health conditions to require participation of mental health staff.
  9. Review the results of our survey of adults in custody to examine the areas of concern that adults in custody identified and implement changes to address those areas of concern.

No later than April 30, 2023, the auditor recommends the sheriff’s office and the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners complete the following: 

  1. Explore an independent review function for jail operations, such as discipline and use of force incidents.

In addition to using data from the sheriff’s office, the audit team also conducted a survey of all adults in custody in June 2021. Of the adults in custody at the time, 74% of them, or 567 people, completed the survey. 

The audit, with its complete findings and survey results, is available on Multnomah County’s website