Facing a critical shortage of jail beds and the possibility of May Day mischief, Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Noelle planned to release as many as 70 inmates back onto the streets Tuesday.

"This is just making me sick," says Noelle, who has released roughly 870 inmates since Jan. 1--before their stints were up.

The current crisis began six months ago, when budget shortfalls forced the county to shut down a 190-bed jail in Troutdale. To deal with the resulting overcrowding at other jails, officials came up with a two-part "solution." First, the sheriff uses a matrix system to rank offenders in terms of danger to the community. For example, an inmate accused of Criminal Mischief II, with prior convictions of Assault III, Criminal Mischief II, Robbery III and Reckless Driving, would get a score of 66.

An inmate charged with twice failing to register as a sex offender, with prior convictions for Rape I and Robbery I, would get a score of 98.

An inmate facing Burglary I, with multiple convictions of parole violations, sex offenses and assault, would get a score of 143.

Sheriff's deputies may release any inmate with a score below 100. "We've gone up to 98 or 99," Noelle says.

Meanwhile, Portland police agreed not to arrest anyone for minor property crimes or drug possession. Instead, officers will merely issue citations. In anticipation of possible trouble during the annual May 1 rally, however, the new arrest policy will not begin until May 2. "If anything happens on May Day, we'll be ready," Noelle said.