PORTLAND, Ore. — Overpopulation at the Multnomah County Jail and budget cuts continue to stretch resources thin.
If the situation continues as it is now, Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese said potentially dangerous offenders will not be supervised like they otherwise would be while awaiting trial.
The jail has been so full, the county had to create the Emergency Population Release Plan. That means inmates are getting out of jail before they are supposed to because there is not enough room.
In one case, a person charged with murder almost got out because of the way the computer system was setup for the plan. That issue was fixed in November, but now there are other problems.
A supervision program called Close Street, for higher level offenders, is stretched thin.
“There are ripple effects among all of our criminal justice stakeholders in our community of course,” explained Abbey Stamp, the executive director of the council that oversees the county’s criminal justice policies.
In a letter to the county and court officials, the sheriff laid out the issue and said because of overcrowding at the jail, the number of offenders in Close Street has skyrocketed. A team of six people, cut down from seven last year, authorized to manage 125 cases, is now managing 300. That is 300 people charged with higher level offenses such as sexual abuse, robbery, and domestic violence cases that would otherwise have to stay in jail until trial.
In the letter Sheriff Reese wrote, “Under these circumstances, this program cannot be effective.” He goes on to write, “Until resources increase or caseloads reduce, new individuals ordered to Close Street will be under minimal supervision."
“Asking a question about, ‘can we go back to having 1,310 jail beds?’ Anything is possible, but that is an incredibly expensive venture and we as a community have been pointedly working to reduce our jail population in a very safe and meaningful way,” Stamp explained. “Mass incarnation is harmful to our community.”
Stamp said the answer is not creating more space at the jail.
“It’s not as easy as, can you open another jail dorm? Sure, if millions of dollars plopped on the county that would be something that’s on the table, but that’s not the case,” Stamp said.
When asked if the county is at the point where budget cuts are now impacting community safety, Stamp responded, “I don't know. I don't think we are yet. I would like to see us be more creative with our current pie. Granted, the county budget continues to shrink over the years and that’s a challenge for everybody and I think more resources would always be useful.”