Ore. county receives $2M grant to reduce racial disparities in jail
The county intends to use the money to create a 21-bed shelter and day treatment center primarily for African American women
By Maxine Bernstein
The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.
Multnomah County has been awarded a $2 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to help address racial and ethnic disparities in its jails.
The county intends to use the money to create a 21-bed shelter and day treatment center primarily for African American women who are on probation, have charges pending in mental health court or are awaiting a competency hearing in criminal court.
African American women tend to face jail sanctions that are longer and more frequent than their white male and female counterparts when on probation, county officials say.
"That told us the community needs to beef up jail alternatives for these women," said Abbey Stamp, executive director of Multnomah County's Local Public Safety Coordinating Council, a group including police chiefs, sheriffs and city and county leaders who meet monthly to work on criminal justice reforms.
A woman's average stay at the shelter is expected to span between two to four months. They'll receive intensive case management, treatment and support services to prepare them to move into permanent housing. The day drop-in center will offer trauma treatment, cognitive therapy and other services.
The aim is to keep more women out of custody and leave jail for those who pose a threat to public safety, county officials said.
The county is working to decrease its jail population overall and reduce racial and ethnic disparities among those held in custody since a 2015 report found black people are overrepresented in each stage of Multnomah County's adult criminal justice system -- from initial contact and arrest through prosecution, sentencing and parole or probation violations.
While they make up only 5 percent of the county's general population, blacks represent 27 percent of its jail population, according to the county study done with the support of an earlier $150,000 MacArthur grant.
The county's average jail population has dropped from 1,104 in May 2016 to 953 in March of this year, according to more recent figures. The county's Department of Community Justice has reduced jail sanctions for probation violations in the hope of decreasing the disparity in African American men receiving more sanctions than white men, and the District Attorney's Office is no longer seeking jail sentences for public transit fare jumpers.
Multnomah County is one of eight counties selected for the additional funding.
The county would like to see a 14.5 percent reduction of average daily jail population over the next two years.
County Chairwoman Deborah Kafoury said the grant will help the county further its goal "to eliminate unnecessary incarceration" for low-level offenses, misdemeanors, or people struggling with mental illness.
(c)2017 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)