In a follow-up to an audit released eight months ago, the Multnomah County Auditor’s Office says the sheriff’s office failed to follow COVID-19 response recommendations in county jails. At a time when people at the county’s two jails cannot receive regular in-person visitors due to the pandemic, the the auditor called on jails to provide adults in custody with alternative ways to maintain connections to people outside.
This February, county Auditor Jennifer McGuirk released her first audit report on Multnomah County’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the 15 recommendations across county government, McGuirk said the sheriff’s office should either increase free phone calls for adults in custody, or modify its jail lobby video visits to allow for safe use.
A reported released Monday by McGuirk states the sheriff’s office didn’t have either process in place, despite having a 90-day deadline. In a response released on Sept. 27, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office admitted that it still had not implemented either recommendation.
“MCSO continues to recognize the critical need for Adults in Custody to maintain contact with family, friends, and other members of their support system,” Sheriff Michael Reese wrote in the statement. “We have explored every option to maintain these positive connections and will continue to do so.”
The sheriff’s office reported it had secured funding to pay for the two 10-minute phone calls per week for each adult in custody, and to extend that service through Sept. 30, 2022.
Reese said a plan to open the jail lobbies early this summer was sidelined by a surge in COVID-19 cases. He said the tentative plan now is to reopen jail lobbies for visitation Oct. 16, with social distancing protocols in place.
The sheriff’s office asked that the auditor change the status of the recommendation from “not implemented” to “in process” in the report. The auditor’s office said the two weekly phone calls are a continuation, not an expansion of free phone calls, and therefore do not meet the recommendation.
“My office makes audit recommendations to foster accountable, effective government,” McGuirk said in a statement. “We follow up on our audit recommendations to help make sure management implements them, particularly in this case where many of our recommendations were focused on health and safety during this ongoing pandemic. "
Of the 15 recommendations the auditor’s office made related to Multnomah County pandemic response, 13 have either been implemented or are in process with only the county jail and library falling under “not implemented.” For library locations, the county did not implement the auditor’s recommendation to add COVID-19 specific cleaning and disinfecting requirements into its contracts with janitorial providers prior to adding substantial in-person capacity.
There are no repercussions for failing to the meet the audit’s recommendations. McGuirk said the report is meant to offer transparency to the pubic.
“I hope that the county will take steps to fully implement the two recommendations that were not completed at the time of my office’s review,” she said.