Multnomah County, OR

Change in Jail Population 36%

Action Areas Community Engagement Pretrial Justice Probation Sanctions Racial Disparities

Last Updated

Background

Multnomah County has seen significant reductions in jail use, but work remains to be done. Over-reliance on jail continues to impact the most marginalized community members, including people of color, people with mental health issues and/or substance use disorders, and people who are unhoused or have limited incomes. Multnomah County is committed to continuing efforts to reduce its reliance on incarceration and address systemic inequities in the criminal justice system.

According to a 2019 report by the W. Haywood Burns Institute, prevalent and persistent racial disparities impact communities of color at every decision point in Multnomah County’s public safety system. Those disparities combined with system inefficiencies in the County’s pretrial system — a critical point in a defendant’s right to due process — create undue harm.

Strategies

Multnomah County advanced several strategies to rethink and redesign its criminal justice system so that it is more fair, just and equitable for all.

01

PRETRIAL SYSTEM OVERHAUL

In 2020, Multnomah County launched an initiative to overhaul the pretrial system and implement a system that is more risk-based and maximizes pretrial release. This includes implementing the Public Safety Assessment (PSA), rethinking the County’s approach to pretrial monitoring and improving the arraignment process. The County is approaching this process with emphasis on transparency, collaboration, and racial equity.

02

RACIAL & ETHNIC DISPARITIES

Reducing racial and ethnic disparities has been a focus of the County’s core strategies. The efforts, which include opening the Diane Wade House, a transitional house for justice-involved Black women, and using data to identify disparities, are a testament to partners’ determination to succeed. The County plans to launch a subcommittee comprised equally of community members and policymakers to address disparities throughout the criminal legal system.

03

AMPLIFYING COMMUNITY VOICES

Multnomah County launched a Community Advisory Board (CAB) to help guide the planning and oversight of the Diane Wade House. The CAB has played a vital role in the future visioning of the program. The County is currently identifying opportunities to amplify community voices in all other reform efforts, including work to overhaul the pretrial system and through Transforming Justice focus groups.

04

SUSTAINING COVID-RELATED POLICIES

The COVID-19 pandemic presented opportunities for policy change to reduce the transmission of disease and over-reliance on jail. Some of these changes include increased use of summons in lieu of booking, changes in booking policy, limiting the use of sanctions for technical violations of probation conditions and increased use of remote court hearings. Moving forward, Multnomah County will continue to evaluate the sustainability of these policy changes.

05

PROBATION SANCTIONS

Sanction practice changes for people on parole and probation have played a significant role in the reduction of local jail use. The policy, implemented within Multnomah County’s Department of Community Justice in 2016, requires parole and probation officers to limit the use of jail sanctions for technical violations such as failure to abide by a parole and probation officer’s directive. This change has not only reduced county jail use, but is consistent with evidence-based practices on the effectiveness of long-term sanctions in behavior change.

Results

As a result of the strategies above, Multnomah County has made progress toward its goal of rethinking and redesigning its criminal justice system.

Quartery ADP for Multnomah County (2016-2021)

35.5% from baseline

More Results

The County has seen significant reductions in the local jail population due to swift action from policymakers to reduce the spread of COVID-19 among adults in custody, as well as a continued interest in sustaining policies to maintain a low jail population. Additionally, local policymakers are committed to moving toward a risk-based pretrial system, which will increase the number of individuals released pretrial and further the County’s goals of reducing its reliance on jail. Since the beginning of the county’s participation in the Safety and Justice Challenge, there has been a significant reduction in the jail population while keeping the community safe.

Also, in recognition of the immense collateral consequences and economic disadvantage people on supervision already face, Multnomah County eliminated parole and probation fees within the County’s Department of Community Justice. Supervision fees place incredible financial pressure on individuals who are exiting the criminal justice system, a disproportionate number of whom come from Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color. The move includes elimination of community service fees, urinalysis fees, and any other administrative fee collected from people involved in the justice system.

Remaining Challenges

Multnomah County is committed to addressing its remaining challenges to ensure the local justice system is fair, just, and equitable for all.

In an effort to launch a broad systemic conversation about inequities embedded in the criminal legal system, the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council’s (LPSCC) January 2020 What Works conference highlighted the need to redefine the jurisdiction’s entire approach to criminal justice and intentionally put equity at the center. In response, LPSCC launched a multi-year Transforming Justice process to develop, align and implement strategies for system change by engaging criminal system leaders, health/housing system leaders, elected officials, service providers, victims of crime, community members, and individuals with lived experience to ask hard questions and, together, reimagine the future of justice policy. An inclusive steering committee of people with diverse backgrounds and professions was formed in May 2021 to direct this work, under the guidance of outside facilitators identified through a competitive procurement process.

Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on every aspect of the County’s local justice system and continues to uniquely affect those incarcerated in jails. The foundation of collaborative, data-driven strategies — including the necessary structures and collaboration from local stakeholders that are in place to support these strategies — set the County up to respond to the pandemic swiftly and effectively.

Action from policymakers to reduce the spread of COVID-19 among adults in custody led to significant reductions in the local jail population and, moving forward, a continued interest in sustaining the policies to maintain a low population. Further, the challenges of the pandemic, paired with local and national calls for racial justice and reckoning, are powerful motivators to substantially change the way the local criminal justice system functions.

Lead Agency

Multnomah County Local Public Safety Coordinating Council

Contact Information

Abbey Stamp
abbey.stamp@multco.us

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