December 15th, 2009 5:33 pm | by JAMES PITKIN News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Multnomah County

What A Grand Jury Thinks About Multnomah County Corrections


In what's become the equivalent of a yearly spanking for the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, a special grand jury today rolled out its annual report (PDF) on the local jail system.

Like previous reports, this year's assessment blasted the county-run jail system as hugely wasteful and inefficient. But unlike past years, where the grand jury was heavily critical of particular leaders (including the scathing 2007 assessment (PDF) of then-Sheriff Bernie Giusto), this year's report focuses more on systemic flaws and potential savings.

"Where a system has operated inefficiently, as we believe has happened in this county, good leadership can convert a crisis into an opportunity for a fundamental re-examination of a wasteful and inefficient system," the report says.

Officially, the report is produced by a random seven-person jury of Multnomah County residents. But the process is guided by the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, which is viewed as the hidden hand behind the report.

Topping the list of potential cost-savings are suggestions that the county opt out of supervising parole and probation for felons, and stop housing state prisoners sentenced to less than one year. The report says the county should instead dish those programs to the state.

Those optional programs — which cost the county $4.5 million a year, according to the grand jury report — are closely guarded by the county Department of Community Justice, which claims it can manage them more effectively than the state. For their part, DCJ and the DA's office are known for engaging in political turf wars over criminal justice.

The report also blasts former Sheriff Bob Skipper for eliminating double-bunking — and thus drastically decreasing available jail beds — without notifying the county commissioners. The report says Sheriff Dan Staton has agreed to revisit the issue.

In a final nod to politics, the report knocks the county commissioners themselves for poor communication on the jails.

"Of the five county board members, only the county chair references corrections on his website, and that is about plans for Wapato," the report says. "The testimony from each of the commissioners emphasized the importance of corrections, particularly in regard to cost effectiveness. We hope this interest will translate to a more effective relationship between the board and the Sheriff's office."
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