The Multnomah County Sheriff's Office started the new year with a full jail. How full? Corrections deputies had to release 55 inmates through emergency population releases last week.

On New Years Eve and Jan. 2, people with charges ranging from drug possession to sex abuse were released from the jail.

The releases are the latest consequence of a county policy designed to shrink the jails and limit the number of people held on criminal charges in Portland. The county closed several dorms in Inverness Jail in 2016 and 2017, decreasing the number of available beds.

To keep the jail population from exceeding the number of beds, the county has had to depend on emergency releases. Sometimes, that results in people with serious criminal charges being released before appearing in front of a judge.

Last week, multiple people with felony firearm charges were released. Several had DUII charges. Others had been arrested for robbery, burglary and motor vehicle theft.

The sheriff's office says the weekend and the holiday strained the jail's capacity.

“If we don’t have court running it’s hard for us to keep our jail population in balance,” says MCSO spokesman Sgt. Brandon White.

The jail starts releasing inmates when the population exceeds 95 percent. The county has 1,192 jail beds. 

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners changed the process for emergency releases in November. Officials reviewed the criteria that scores inmates to determine who should be released, which is called a matrix, after overcrowding last year nearly led to a murder suspect being released.

The matrix criteria say that the last people to be considered for release will be those held on the worst sex abuse charges, child abuse, those who pose a risk to victims or public safety, and those with multiple DUII or motor vehicle theft charges.