A grand jury report released Monday found Multnomah County’s jails have, overall, benefited from a reduced inmate population because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In spring, many jails across the state slashed the numbers of inmates in custody to slow the spread of COVID-19, which transmits easier between people in communal living spaces like prisons and jails. Similarly, the Oregon Department of Corrections has struggled to control outbreaks of the virus, resulting in the deaths of 17 inmates in state prisons.
The report was issued by the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office, but was compiled by a group of county residents who served on the grand jury. Corrections grand juries are convened annually under Oregon law to provide oversight and review concerns. Because of the pandemic, grand jurors didn’t visit any of the county’s detention facilities as they have in years past.
Last spring, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office cut its jail population from about 95% to 60% capacity in a matter of weeks, the report found. At one point last spring, the overall daily population for jails in the state was down 45%, according to figures provided by the Oregon State Sheriffs Association.
In some counties, the numbers of inmates have once again started to increase. Still, jail capacity in Multnomah County remains at about 66%.
“We heard testimony from corrections deputies that the reduced population of [adults in custody] has had an overall positive impact on the operation of the facilities,” the grand jury wrote in its report. “We also want to acknowledge that the AIC population was reduced from 95% of capacity to 60% within just a few weeks. This immediately led to improvements, due to the increased ratio of corrections deputies to AIC population.”
The grand jury also looked at issues surrounding overtime, among other concerns. The report states overtime makes up about 7% of the sheriff’s $147 million 2019-2020 budget.
“Overtime expenses represent a significant burden to the corrections division operating budget,” the grand jury wrote in its report. It recommended an immediate overtime study by an outside firm.
“The jurors’ focus on MCSO’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic within its facilities was an important part of this year’s report,” Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese stated. “MCSO is committed to taking important lessons we have learned during our pandemic response and using those to better our system moving forward.”