Multnomah County

Jury recommends re-opening Multnomah County jail dorms

Overcrowding caused corrections officials to release some inmates early

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) -- Multnomah County could stop jail over overcrowding and the practice of releasing inmates early if it re-opens a dorm that closed last year.

Those are the findings of a Grand Jury that looked at the state of the Multnomah County Corrections system.

To save money, two inmate dorms with 100 beds were closed in recent years and now sit empty. Without those open beds, jail overcrowding caused corrections officials to release those awaiting trial back into the public earlier than they would normally be released.

In April, the sheriff's office reported that more than 160 people had been let go early, staring from July 2017 through April 2018.

Some high-profile cases resulted, including a man accused of punching an elderly woman as she tried to walk past him. He was re-released early after the assault due to overcrowding. 

The president of the Lents Livability Association followed that case.

"It's an ongoing story, and it's something you see in the news all the time," David Potts said. 

The Grand Jury said testimony indicated that if the 59-person dorm that was cut in 2017 was reinstated, many of the concerns would be alleviated, especially until more things like mental health services are available. 

County Chair Deborah Kafoury issued a statement saying the county had been working to rightsize the jail but did not commit to re-opening the dorm.

Kafoury's full statement: 

"We appreciate the Grand Jury’s work in producing the 2018 report and we’ll be taking the findings into consideration. The Grand Jury correctly identified the most prevailing and consistent issue in our jails: the high number of people experiencing mental illness and struggling with substance use disorder. We also know jail has disproportionate impacts on communities of color.

We’ve been working to rightsize the number of jail beds in our community. Because every dollar we invest in a jail bed is a dollar that’s diverted away from addictions treatment, mental health programs, peer support, community supervision, or housing. The Grand Jury’s own reports identified mental health as a “substantial problem’’ at all four facilities before any jail beds were reduced in 2017.

We were pleased the Grand Jury recognized the value of innovative programs like the LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) and the soon to open Diane Wade House. Those programs leverage funding from national foundations saving taxpayer money. We’re encouraged that local voters passed a regional housing bond that will allow new partnerships to support affordable housing. And we’ll continue to lobby our state and federal partners for more resources to strengthen our community mental health services.

All of our public safety partners agree that we need to do things differently. But a jail cell is never going to solve a mental health crisis. That’s why we need to continue to focus on alternatives strategies, that not only keep the public safe, but save lives.

Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese released the following statement on the report: 

“MCSO is indebted to this year’s Corrections Grand Jury; we appreciated how they embraced the process and engaged criminal justice system partners. While review of the conditions and management of correctional facilities is not an easy assignment, it is important work to MCSO. We believe grand jurors are an integral part of our systems of accountability.  Recommendations from this year’s Grand Jury will build upon prior reports, and enhance our vision for keeping the community safe and providing rehabilitative services for adults entrusted to our custody."  

Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill's statement: 

“This report is critically important as it provides us, and our system partners, with a deeper understanding of what must be done to continuously improve the condition and management of the four correctional facilities housed in our jurisdiction. This report highlights the pre-trial programs that divert people to treatment instead of jail incarceration. I want to express my deep gratitude to the seven community members who served on this grand jury. Their report gives all of us in the criminal justice system understanding of the state of the correctional facilities in Multnomah County.”

Read the full Multnomah County Corrections report

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