Multnomah County has been awarded a $2 million grant to reduce the size of the local jail population — particularly among people with mental health and substance abuse issues.
More than 40 percent of people in Multnomah County jails have a documented mental health issue. On top of that, 29 percent are African-American, but African-Americans only make up 6 percent of the local population.
The county has been trying to fix the problem, and over the last 18 years, the jail population has reduced 42 percent. But authorities concede there’s still too much reliance on incarceration for low-risk and nonviolent offenders.
Abbey Stamp, the executive director of Multnomah County’s Local Public Safety Coordinating Council, said the $2 million grant will be used in several ways. It will cut back on the use of jail for people charged with misdemeanor counts of interfering with public transportation, decrease the average parole sanction from 10 days in jail to seven days, expand the use of citations in lieu of jail for certain misdemeanors and redirect low-level drug offenders from jail to treatment services.
The money will also help decrease jail stays for misdemeanor defendants undergoing mental health evaluations.
“Some people need to be in jail,” said Stamp. “(But) we want to keep everybody who doesn’t need to be out in the community.”
Stamp said Multnomah County also wants to develop a program for women grappling with mental health challenges and offer them gender-specific, trauma-informed services.
“We have a lot of community-based programs, alternatives, supports and different levels of accountability for men,” she said. “We were missing that diversity of alternatives for women.”
The John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation grant is part of a more than $100 million national initiative to reduce incarceration by changing the way Americans think about jail.