PORTLAND, Ore — At what point will someone who commits crimes over and over again be held accountable? There are people in Portland who rack up multiple charges and are considered high volume users of the justice system. However, depending on their charges they may never spend more than a few days in jail and sometimes it is just a few hours.
That was the case for a man named Brian Lankford who recently racked up his 68th conviction. He is still not in prison. Instead, he was sentenced to a prison diversion program called the Multnomah County Justice Reinvestment Program.
Carole Hinojosa is a graduate of that same program.
“Even the cops called me crazy Carole,” Hinojosa said. “So, my story goes: I grew up as, I was an addict child. I grew up in a drug home that was, there was no connection of any kind in a positive manner. We were taught, we were basically raised on and taught how to be a criminal.”
Hinojosa’s life has been far from easy.
“I'm just going to put it out there, I was pimped out as a baby by my mother, and it really changes your mind and your soul,” Hinojosa explained. “So, my life just pretty much spiraled.”
Addicted and homeless, Hinojosa fought for her life on the streets of Portland.
“I just stayed in my tent on the streets and did the best I knew to survive, and the streets are hard on people, like, if your soul's already broken, the streets will break you more,” Hinojosa said.
She was broken and caught in a pattern of self-destructive behavior.
“I went in and out of prison for a while,” Hinojosa said.
Hinojosa admits that cycle probably would have continued.
“I probably would've found a meth pipe because I wouldn't have known anything different,” Hinojosa explained.
She barely remembers the assault that landed her in jail. It was July 13, 2014, and her life was in a fog. She was high on methamphetamine, drunk, and had barely slept in weeks. Court documents said she attacked another homeless woman with a glass bottle. However, that attack became a turning point.
“Like, I finally have a life, I'm 51 and I know what life is,” Hinojosa said.
The assault charge qualified Hinojosa for a prison diversion program called the Multnomah County Justice Reinvestment Program or MCJRP for short. But, let's put Hinojosa’s story on a pause for a moment, so you can understand why we are talking about it.
KGW heard about Hinojosa 's story because of a man named Brian Lankford. Like Hinojosa, he was arrested multiple times. So many times, that he is No. 4 on the list of repeat offenders in Multnomah County. Since 2008, he has been booked into jail 146 times. He has been arrested twice in the same day, sometimes it was on back-to-back days, and sometimes it was multiple times a week.
“So someone like Brian Lankford for example, he's now on his 68th conviction, people see that and say, how is that allowed to happen,” KGW Reporter Lindsay Nadrich asked Multnomah County Senior Deputy District Attorney Nathan Vasquez.
“Yeah, it's an extreme amount of convictions for sure, but when you really kind of go through his history and look at it, a lot of it is actually very minor stuff: criminal trespass, interfering with public transportation, there are some theft cases, a few resisting arrest, but they were very limited in the kind of violent person crimes,” Vasquez responded.
“These are low level misdemeanors, but it doesn't feel that way to the people who are continually victimized,” Nadrich said to Vasquez.
“Absolutely,” Vasquez replied. “Sometimes these have absolutely real life impacts on people and that can never be forgotten.”
Tiffany Hammer was the victim in Brian Lankford’s 68th conviction.
“In my case seeing a situation where I have the fourth highest repeat crime offender in all of Multnomah County for bookings, not being checked, I have a hard time with that,” Hammer explained.
When you ask Hammer about Lankford, you can feel her anxiety as she flashes back through that day. In August 2017, Hammer and her then 9-year-old son left their property near 14th and Montgomery in Goose Hollow. They forgot something, so they quickly came back and found two people she recognized as homeless campers from her street trying to break in. One left, but the other, who was Brian Lankford, stayed, swinging a tree branch and yelling at Hammer and her son. They ran back to their car for safety, where they felt trapped until police showed up.
“That was the hardest part for me, is the fact that my little boy was so scared and unable to understand why someone would want to harm us on our property and not leave us after many attempts,” Hammer explained.
It took a while, but in October Lankford was finally sentenced to 36 months of formal probation through the Multnomah County Justice Reinvestment Program.
His outcome remains to be seen, but this is where we get back to Hinojosa. She was in that same program and for her, it worked.
“I just know I wouldn't be the person I am today without the design of this program, of how it works,” Hinojosa said.
So how does it work? Instead of going to prison, people in the program get intensive supervision with treatment for things like substance abuse and mental health. They are also connected to housing, mentoring and employment.
“I think this program is one of many ways that can help folks meet their needs, reduce their risk, and stop a life of crime, repair harm to the community, and really get out of our system,” explained Abbey Stamp, who is the Executive Director of the Multnomah County Local Public Safety Coordinating Council.
Stamp said the program is aimed at the highest risk and highest need defendants.
“If someone is arrested 50 times, and they are convicted 50 times, is arresting and convicting someone working?” Stamp asked. “That doesn't seem to be a very valuable intervention if someone continues to cycle through.”
Eligibility for the program is based on the crime committed. This is for people who would otherwise go to prison, which means people who commit low-level misdemeanors do not meet the criteria. That is why Brian Lankford did not qualify for it until Hammer’s case.
There are exceptions though. Violent crimes like murder or kidnapping are not eligible.
“Over 95% of the people who are in prison come home,” Stamp said. “What we wanted to do was work up front and identify what folks really need to get onto a path of recovery or wellness or whatever that looks like for the person, so we don't see them in the justice system again, that's the ultimate goal.”
When Hinojosa heard about the program, she was skeptical. She could choose to go to prison or enroll in the program. Although prison sounded easier at the time, she said she decided to take a chance to save her life.
“They don't give up on you and they help you learn how to rebuild your life,” Hinojosa said. “I never had a life to rebuild, so I got to build the life.”
Hinojosa graduated college. She has a job, a car, stable housing and even a dog named Sam.
“Without this program, I would've never known that I was worthy of any of that,” Hinojosa said.
Hinojosa would have just been released from prison in July. Instead, she has a life she is proud of.
“It made me realize, no I'm worth battling for, I battled for myself,” Hinojosa said.
For four years now, Hinojosa has been sober. When she hits year five, she wants to be a counselor for others struggling with addiction.
As for Lankford, some people are not happy he is in the program instead of in prison. However, if he violates any conditions of the program he could be sent to prison for up to five years.