Multnomah County Inverness Jail & Multnomah County Detention Center: Sheriff’s Office worked with the Health Department on policies and process, but compliance with policies is an ongoing challenge

The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) operates two jails, the Multnomah County Detention Center (MCDC) and the Inverness Jail. MCDC is a maximum security facility made up of individual cells. It is located in downtown Portland. The Inverness Jail is a medium security facility primarily made up of open dormitories. It is located near the Portland International Airport. MCDC serves as the primary initial booking facility for all people arrested within Multnomah County. MCDC houses adults in custody for the county, as well as adults in custody involved in state and federal court matters.

Local jails, like Multnomah County’s, are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks because of the high turnover of adults in custody, the confined indoor space, and the limited ability to control who comes into the jails. And, because the staff includes about 460 people who come and go each day, jails also put their staff’s communities at risk.


Does the MCSO have a written plan for how to respond to the pandemic and future outbreaks?

Management has written pandemic policies that cover a variety of topics such as face coverings, screening of COVID-19 signs and symptoms, disinfecting surfaces, visitation, and court hearings. MCSO guidance is consistent with central county guidance. 

Where does their guidance come from?

MCSO uses guidance from Multnomah County Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Face Coverings

Is there a policy requiring jail staff to wear face coverings? If so, were people wearing them at the time of our audit?

Requiring that face coverings be worn in the jails is a critical part of the plan to decrease exposure to COVID-19 and to contain any outbreak, should one occur. Staff that come and go from the facilities are one of the greatest risks for introduction of COVID-19 into the jails. The Sheriff has revised the direction about wearing masks over time:

  • In early April 2020, the Sheriff issued a recommendation for all staff to wear masks when within 6 feet of each other, per CDC guidance.
  • On June 24, 2020, the Sheriff issued a face covering policy consistent with the Governor and County Chair’s direction for the use of face coverings – mandating face coverings in all jail settings because physical distancing can be difficult.
  • On August 6, 2020, the Sheriff upgraded the policy to the level of a special order mandating the use of face coverings. The distinction between policy and special order is important because a special order allows for staff members to be disciplined for non-compliance.

In July, the press and others reported that MCSO staff were not wearing face coverings in the jails. In fall 2020, we sent a survey to all county employees to provide them with an opportunity to communicate their experiences during the pandemic. More than 50% of MCSO staff in the jails who responded to the survey reported that County employees wear face coverings only sometimes or rarely. Staff reported that some of their coworkers were not taking COVID-19 seriously and not complying with face covering requirements. As of October 23, 2020, MCSO reported that they had not disciplined any staff for non-compliance with the face covering order.

Survey question: In my experience, county employees wear masks or face coverings when working with the public or within 6 feet of others.

MCSO management said some of the issues with face covering compliance is related to when the Sheriff requires them. For example, according to the special order, face coverings are not required for staff working in control rooms by themselves or when they can maintain recommended physical distancing.

Is there a policy about face coverings for service users (adults in custody)? If so, were face coverings being worn at the time of our audit?

  • MCSO requires new adults in custody to wear a face covering whenever out of their cell.
  • MCSO does not require adults in custody to wear a face covering inside their housing unit, if the unit residents have passed quarantine for a minimum period of time established by the local health authority.
  • MCSO requires all adults in custody to wear face coverings outside their housing units.
  • MCSO does not require face coverings for adults in custody when:
    • inside a non-contact visitation or law library room when no one else is present,
    • inside a recreation gym once staff have vacated,
    • people have a physical or mental condition or disability that limits their ability to wear a face covering, and/or
    • an order from the Oregon Judicial Department, presiding judge, or local health authority provides an exception to the wearing of face coverings.

The responses to our survey about adults in custody wearing face coverings reflected the fact that they are not always required to wear one.

Survey question: In my experience, service users, (e.g. clients, patients, people in custody) and community members wear masks or face coverings when in county facilities or when interacting with county employees.

Did MCSO have a sufficient supply of face coverings at the time of the audit?

According to the MCSO supply manager, the agency monitors its rate of use and has a goal of maintaining a 30-day supply on hand. MCSO uses disposable masks in booking and has been able to maintain a 30-day supply of about 35,000 of these masks.

The MCSO uses washable cloth face coverings for both adults in custody and staff. Adults in custody may exchange their mask for a clean one each week. This contrasts with CDC guidelines, which call for cloth face coverings to be washed when dirty, but at least every day if used. To be consistent with CDC guidelines, as soon as possible, MCSO should begin exchanging the cloth masks of adults in custody on a daily basis if they are used.

Do they have a sufficient supply going forward?

While there were difficulties maintaining an inventory of face coverings during the early stages of the pandemic, MCSO management told us these problems have largely been solved.

Personal Protective Equipment (N95 masks, face shields, gloves, etc.)

Did they have a sufficient supply at the time of our audit?

According to MCSO management, the availability of more robust personal protective equipment, such as N95 masks, and other COVID-19 related supplies is mixed. An order for 3,000 KN95 masks submitted on May 17, 2020 was unfilled as of August 25, 2020. Still, MCSO had an inventory of over 7,000 N95 rated masks. MCSO has also had difficulty obtaining large gloves; disinfectant wipes are still difficult to obtain, but hand sanitizer is more readily available.

The inability of MCSO to get some supplies was reflected in the information provided in our employee survey. Nearly 60% of staff responding to our survey said MCSO did not provide them with sufficient PPE. Several MCSO staff said they were not able to get some necessary supplies, especially wipes, for cleaning their work areas at the beginning of or during their shifts.

Do they have a sufficient supply going forward?

The extent to which MCSO has a sufficient supply of PPE depends on their ability to prevent outbreaks within the jails. Current CDC guidelines recommend the use of N95 masks in only very limited circumstances – staff having direct contact with or present during a procedure that may generate respiratory aerosols on a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 case. MCSO reported that their processes – developed in consultation with the Health Department - also reduce the need for routine use of PPE like N95 masks.


Had MCSO management redeployed staff from other areas to the jails, or has management hired new staff?

MCSO management said that they have not needed to redeploy or hire additional staff to meet staffing needs during the pandemic. A small number of staff who would normally work in the jails have requested and received approval for alternative work assignments, but the number was sufficiently small to be accommodated without unusual staffing adjustments.

Are there any other staffing concerns?

While not related specifically to the pandemic, staff expressed concerns in our survey about the amount of mandatory overtime associated with the ongoing protests downtown and other absences. When there is a sufficient number of absences on any given shift– protest related or not - and there isn’t a sufficient number of employees who volunteer to fill the gaps, MCSO management can require individual staff members to work an overtime shift.

Physical distancing adaptations

What changes had they made to physical layouts and operations for providing services and continuing operations?

The jails are currently operating at approximately 50-60% of physical capacity – the majority of the reduction is the result of law enforcement agencies bringing fewer adults in custody into the jails. The Inverness Jail has the same number of dorms open as it did prior to the pandemic, which allows for more space per adult in custody. In MCDC, adults in custody are housed in individual cells and MCSO has instituted a process for isolating and monitoring all new adults in custody prior to admission to the general jail population.

What guidance or protocols were there for visitors at the time of our audit?

MCSO suspended all in-person visits at both jails. Early in the pandemic, MCSO distributed coupons for free video visits for adults in custody. Currently, adults in custody are allowed two 10-minute telephone calls per week for free and limited free video visits for emergencies that the MCSO chaplains provide. Otherwise video visits cost $5 each, and phone calls beyond the two free ones are collect calls.

With normal no-cost visiting options suspended because of COVID-19 precautions, MCSO should either expand the use of free-phone calls or modify lobby video visit operations to allow for safe use as soon as possible.

New intakes

How had they adjusted intakes, and did the approach appear safe?

MCSO management can encourage law enforcement partners to reduce the number of adults brought in, but cannot control the inflow. According to MCSO management, new adults in custody are housed at MCDC in individual cells (with solid walls and doors) and Corrections Health staff working in the jails monitor them for COVID-19 symptoms on a daily basis for at least 14 days. When MCSO transfers adults in custody from MCDC to Inverness, they are moved in groups that stay together and that end up being isolated from the general jail population for 20-30 days. Corrections Health management told us it must clear adults in custody for moves through this process.

MCSO management told us the intake process on the booking floor has also changed. With the new process, MCSO staff screen individuals for COVID-19 symptoms prior to entry into booking then issues them disposable face coverings.  Once the booking process starts, MCSO attempts to maintain physical distancing between adults in custody and staff and to limit the amount of time spent with any personal interactions. After booking, Corrections Health staff conduct a more comprehensive COVID-19 screening interview.

According to a Public Health official, no one was considered exposed when a COVID-positive adult in custody went through the booking process with a standard face covering and limited contact with staff or others.

Did the new approach mean some people who would have been in jail pre-pandemic are not housed there?

MCSO is processing fewer individuals into the jail population. For most minor offenses, local law enforcement agencies instituted a policy of citing in lieu of arrest. When law enforcement agencies make arrests, most individuals are booked and then released and required to appear in court if ordered. Individuals arrested on more serious charges as well as transfers from state and federal custody have been occurring more normally and these individuals have been integrated into the jail population.


What happens if adults in custody or staff exhibit symptoms or test positive?

MCSO and Corrections Health isolate any adult in custody with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 in a negative air pressure cell within the medical section for additional monitoring until they are cleared to be transferred into the general population or released. 

During our audit, MCSO had one instance where they determined that an individual being processed in booking was potentially COVID-19 positive, which later proved to be true. This individual was isolated and then released to a quarantine hotel rather than entering the jail population. As of October 14, 2020, MCSO reported that they had had one corrections deputy test positive. This staff member quarantined and recovered at home without exposing other staff or adults in custody in the jails.

MCSO worked with the Corrections Health and Public Health Divisions to examine each instance where a staff member or adult in custody tested positive.  Public Health examined the contacts with the infected person, determined if there was additional exposure, and consulted on the best course of action. In both the cases of the positive adult in custody and the positive corrections deputy, the Public Health unit determined that no staff had been exposed. In our survey, MCSO staff working in the jails expressed concern about this incident and felt they had not gotten much of an explanation about how the Health Department arrived at this determination.


Were programming/educational opportunities available to adults in custody during the pandemic at the time of our audit?

Prior to the pandemic, contract employees from Volunteers of America (VOA) facilitated an addictions treatment readiness program at the Inverness Jail. MCSO suspended the program to reduce the number of non-MCSO staff coming into the jails.  MCSO corrections counselors have been in contact with VOA and are continuing the treatment readiness program using VOA materials. MCSO management told us chaplains continue to work in both jails and offer limited religious services. The law library is still open, but can only be used by adults in custody from one dorm at a time.

Contractor Management

What processes did they have in place to monitor contractors?

MCSO management said the use of contractors in the jails has been limited. MCSO suspended programming activity that has been provided by volunteers and contractors. Food service contractors continue to prepare and provide meals to adults in custody, and construction contractors are installing an electronics upgrade in MCDC. MCSO management told us they require these contractors to comply with County and MCSO COVID-19 policies.

Did MCSO have sufficient contract authority to require contractors to comply with county pandemic directives, even if they go beyond state directives?

MCSO management reported no issues with contract authority in terms of COVID-19 policies.


  • To be consistent with CDC guidelines, MCSO should begin exchanging the cloth masks of adults in custody on a daily basis if they are used upon issuance of this report.
  • With normal no-cost visiting options suspended because of COVID-19 precautions, MCSO should either expand the use of free-phone calls or modify lobby video visit operations to allow for safe use as soon as possible and no later than 90 days within issuance of this report.