2 of 6 people who died in Multnomah County Jail this summer died by suicide

By Allison Frost (OPB), Dave Miller (OPB) and Lillian Mongeau Hughes (OPB)
Aug. 9, 2023 1 p.m.

Two people died by suicide in the Multnomah County Jail this summer.

And while the recent spike in deaths — six between May 2 and Aug. 1 — is the biggest seen in 15 years, the risk of suicide among people in custody is ever-present. As many as half of the deaths in Pacific Northwest jails are due to suicide.


In a conversation with Dave Miller on OPB’s Think Out Loud this week, Multnomah County Sheriff Nicole Morrisey O’Donnell said that people are spending a longer time in jail and facing more severe charges these days. The dissolution of social ties during long jail stays can be extremely stressful, she said.

“We have mental health resources in our corrections facilities,” Morrisey O’Donnell said. “We have corrections counselors as well that are available to provide resources to our adults in custody.”

Multnomah County Justice Center front.

The Multnomah County Justice Center in downtown Portland, which houses a jail and four courtrooms.

Amanda Troxler / OPB

She said it has become increasingly important to make sure people in custody have access to those resources and that jail deputies know how to spot warning signs that someone in custody may be having suicidal thoughts.

She added that it’s incumbent upon leaders in the sheriff’s office to ensure “that our deputies have the training for suicide prevention and intervention [and] that they can help assess and make recommendations if they’re in a housing area, working with adults in custody where they have a concern.”

People in county jails have been charged with a crime, but not convicted. They are still innocent under the law.


Related Stories

Multnomah County Justice Center front.

Multnomah County investigating spike in jail deaths

Between May 2 and Aug. 1, six people died in one of the Multnomah County's jails. County officials blame drugs smuggled into its jails for at least some of the recent in-custody deaths, though can’t be sure new steps — such as strip searches of people entering the facilities — will solve the problem.