June 23, 2020

Multnomah County released its 2021 fiscal year budget today, including a public safety package that shifts funds from the traditional criminal justice system and reinvests in upstream prevention, diversion, and reentry programs focused on the Black community and other communities of color.

Multnomah County's budget includes a public safety package that shifts funds from the traditional criminal justice system and reinvests in upstream prevention, diversion, and reentry programs focused on the Black community and other communities of color.

The package builds on work underway to re-envision the criminal justice system, which study after study finds disproportionately impacts people who are Black, Indigenous or from communities of color. But it goes further by reallocating funding from the punitive portions of the justice system — such as mass incarceration and fines and fees  — and reallocates $2.5 million toward resources that promote diversion, successful reentry post-incarceration and healing.

“It’s been nearly a month since the world witnessed the brutal murder of George Floyd,” said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury. 

“Since then we’ve seen the power of community coming together to demand police accountability and fundamental change to systems of mass incarceration and institutional racism. 

The centuries of unjust and inequitable treatment experienced by the Black community — from law enforcement to court proceedings to incarceration is well-documented and incontrovertible,” she continued. 

“We cannot ignore the fact that the foundation of that system is based on denying the Black community and communities of color their basic rights and dignity as a human being. 

As our community is pleading, demanding change, we must act.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that policies and operational changes in place to address public health concerns can reduce incarceration. These changes include:  

  • Reducing jail capacity, something already in place due to COVID-19 health and safety restrictions. The budget calls for closing a dorm. 

  • Partner agencies issuing citations in lieu of booking people into jail for certain misdemeanors. 

  • Reconsidering how the District Attorney treats low level misdemeanors and their impact on jail. 

The Board also reduced County general fund dollars that support a portion of school resource officers in the Corbett School District — as part of an effort in school districts throughout the County. 

And the budget eliminates parole and probation fees within the County’s Department of Community Justice and partners with the state to end parole and probation supervision fees altogether and calls for a study of fees, fines and other barriers for justice-involved individuals. 

“We often say our criminal justice system is broken when actually the system was built on a premise that has perpetuated disparities,” said Erika Preuitt, director of Multnomah County Department of Community Justice, which oversees parole and probation. 

“The system does not need to be fixed; It needs to be transformed,” Preuitt said. “I believe there are multiple systems that need to be part of that reconstruction. It is my hope that we can develop upstream solutions, even before a person enters the criminal justice system. And that we work collectively—  with our partners—  to ensure our communities thrive, as we work to keep them safe.”

Investments in health, human services, and restorative approaches.  

Reallocated funds will go to programs and efforts designed to improve outcomes for individuals and communities of color and reduce over-incarceration. The County plans to work with members of the community on the design and implementation of these efforts. Investments include: 

  • Creating a culturally-specific Stabilization for Treatment Program (an existing program model), that provides stabilization housing, wraparound services, supports and advocacy for justice-involved individuals.

  • Flip the Script, a housing and support program for African American men and women that provides employment, housing, peer support and advocacy.

  • The expansion of Legal Services Day, which helps low-income people resolve legal fees and fines, expunge records, resolve outstanding warrants, obtain housing and jobs, and regain driver's licenses.

  • The expansion of community-centered partnerships for families of youth on probation. 

  • The launch of a mobile, peer-support pilot program for people leaving prison or jail.

  • The expansion of the SUN Schools program to include KairosPDX, a North Portland educational nonprofit operating in Portland Public Schools and

  • Restorations of cuts to the County’s Healthy Birth Initiative.  

The County is also working closely with the Legislature’s People of Color Caucus, which has put forward several proposals on police accountability and reform, Kafoury said. 

“We are deepening our involvement with ongoing pretrial reform work with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge,” Kafoury stressed. “And will be pushing forward — in partnership with the community — an effort to re-envision the criminal justice system.”

The process of re-imagining public safety started at January’s What Works in Public Safety Conference, which served as a first of many visioning sessions for justice system reforms. At the conference, participants across the public safety system, pledged to re-imagine public safety — and shift funds toward health and human services and restorative approaches. 

“That visioning work was launched by the current movement, galvanized by people most negatively impacted by criminal systems,” said Abbey Stamp, executive director of Multnomah County’s Local Public Safety Coordinating Council. “We will continue with a number of sessions with executives, crime victims, and individuals with lived experience, this fall.” 

The package includes amendments from Multnomah County commissioners calling for equity and focus in the budgeting process and an analysis of outcomes and data on existing programs and practices within the justice system such as law enforcement training, use of force, electronic monitoring, and jail labor. 

It includes a reduction in the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion or (LEAD), a county-funded, pre-booking jail diversion program that allows police to divert someone facing low-level drug offenses to case managers and away from jail or prosecution. The reduction keeps enough staffing to serve the current number of people enrolled in the program. The County is also in the process of re-imagining LEAD as part of this overall reform effort. 

It adds $100,000 to the Health Department’s federal Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health or REACH grant, designed to improve health outcomes for communities of color in East Multnomah County. And it adds $150,000 to the Youth Opportunity and Workforce Development Program, formerly known as SummerWorks, to help ensure training and job placement for youth.  

These are steps forward. We have more work to do, board members acknowledged. Moving forward will mean comprehensive change. It will mean continual listening, acknowledgement, empathy and a pledge of inclusive support to dismantle racism together. 

“What is really needed is wholesale change,” said Kafoury. “This is not something that any of us in Multnomah County can do alone. 

The pandemic has shown that we can’t go back to business as usual.

And this same principle must apply to the criminal justice system.” 

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Remarks from June 23 budget adoption meeting:

Chair Deborah Kafoury

We cannot talk about this budget, nor any government spending, without talking about the public safety system that unjustly profiles, responds violently to, and over-incarcerates Black people and other people of color. 

The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Tony McDade have only reinforced the need for dramatic transformation of policing, prosecution, court, jail and community justice.

We must continue our efforts to re-imagine and transform into what a fair and just system should be: one where we invest in people over punishment; in repair and restoration over incarceration.

In recent years, we’ve closed two jail dorms and opened a number of diversion services that take a public health approach to traditional “criminal justice” issues.

We also know that more action is desperately needed. Our community is crying out for a complete transformation of the justice system. As part of that process, I remain committed to the work we started in January with the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council, elected leaders and community members. The goal of that effort is to achieve such a transformation.

At the same time, we know we must take immediate action. I’ve asked our Health Department and Department of Community Justice to look at how we can disinvest from downstream criminal justice interventions, and reinvest in resources that promote deflection, diversion, successful reentry and healing.

I know we can, and will, because we’ve just done it over these past three months in an effort to keep people who are jailed safer during the pandemic. We reduced the number of people in jail by 40 percent. 

This is an historic opportunity to enact recommendations provided by community members, community leaders, our own employees and trusted partners. The public safety and community health package reflected in this budget begins - and let me clear it only begins - to make good on those requests.

This budget closes an entire jail dorm, reduces Sheriff’s Office FTEs, and reduces the misdemeanor and pretrial units in the District Attorney’s Office. We’re permanently suspending parole and probation fees within the Department of Community Justice, reducing an unnecessary and outdated financial hardship that punished people for simply being placed on supervision.

And we’re calling on our partners at the state to follow suit and allow other jurisdictions to end supervision fees altogether. But cutting is only part of the picture. 

We are reallocating funds to programs and services that offer upstream resources and opportunities for communities of color, and break down barriers to stability and successful reentry for those who have had criminal justice involvement. 

So we’re taking that money and putting it into employment support services like Flip the Script, a housing and support program for African American men that provides employment, housing, peer support and advocacy; We’re investing in culturally specific behavioral health housing that promotes stabilization and expands services for Black community members coming out of jail and prison.

The expansion of the SUN Schools program to a new site at KairosPDX, a North Portland educational nonprofit, as well as an expansion of Legal Services Day, which helps low-income people resolve legal fees and fines, expunge records, and resolve outstanding warrants. 

We’re expanding community-centered partnerships to support families of youth on probation and we’re restoring cuts to the County’s Healthy Birth Initiative.

Commissioner Sharon Meieran 

It is not hyperbole to say that this has been a truly monumental year. 

We started with the increase of the Business Income Tax, with the promise of increasing capacity and enhancing some of our existing services, and introducing new services to support those most vulnerable in our community. But honestly, looking back, those were investments that, while supporting good programs and services, were actually continuing in a straight line, with business as usual.

Then COVID-19 hit, introducing challenges that, a few months prior, we could never even have imagined. But COVID also forced us to take a look at new ways of doing things, eliminate barriers that in the past would have taken years to surmount, and realize that, amidst the challenge and the heartache and the, there were rays of hope that we could do things differently, and better. And serve our clients and our community in ways more effective than in the past. 

And then, George Floyd was murdered, and another seismic shift in what happened in our community, state, country and in the world …  

I believe this budget represents an essential and important step for us to look at ways we can incorporate the lessons learned from George Floyd’s death. This budget also represents an important step for continuing to shrink our investment in criminal justice approaches to public safety instead — reinvesting in people, especially people of color who suffer disproportionately due to institutionalized racism.

In terms of the epidemic of Racism, and the current movement spurred by George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police —  this is something that has been, and must continue to be, at the core of all the work we do at the County. 

And this is, of course, a much longer and more profound conversation that is ongoing. But in the context of adoption of our budget, there are meaningful steps I am really excited about re-imagining our public safety system, and shifting funding into human services and healthcare, especially culturally specific services. 

Chair Kafoury, thanks to your leadership the County began the work of thoughtfully reducing our reliance on jail and law enforcement approaches to public safety years ago.  

The current moment calls on us to accelerate this work, centering the voices and needs of Black, Indigenous and People of Color and investing in approaches that minimize harm and focus on 

We must critically question whose safety our system has historically prioritized, and fundamentally rethink how we promote safety in our communities. 

In this budget, I am particularly excited about the:  

  • Mobile Behavioral Health and Peer Support Services pilot

  • SUN school expansion to Kairos

  • Reducing adult supervision fees 

  • Legal Services Day expansion

And the budget notes we have outlined create the potential for additional work and additional shifts in the

  • Mobile crisis unit

  • MCSO training and 

  • Equity focused budgeting

Commissioner Lori Stegmann

I am pretty sure that none of us thought we would be balancing this year’s budget during a pandemic. 

In the best of times it’s challenging to weigh the demands of the largest safety net provider in Oregon while forging a new path towards social justice. But at the core of our work is our basic humanity. 

I am proud to be part of a board who has prioritized the needs of our most vulnerable, invested in tearing down the walls of institutional racism, and has been at the forefront of criminal justice reform. While at the same time, providing basic needs like housing, healthcare, and food to many who never imagined they’d need help.  

There are times in all of our lives when we need help to see us through the dark times -  financially, emotionally, and psychologically.  And it is then when we need to lean on one another.

Make no mistake, we will be faced with daunting challenges, pressures and demands as we guide our county through these unprecedented times.

Undoubtedly, we will stumble along the way. But it's important that our employees, our community, and all of those demanding long overdue change, that you know this board is committed to leading with race and fighting for social justice.  

I want to thank our department leadership and staff for looking to the future as we move away from a punitive, system-based response and invest in community-based interventions and preventions. We have been on this path toward strengths based change for quite a while, working on pretrial reform and reducing jail usage. We had previously closed two jail dorms and with the passing of today’s budget, another jail dorm has been de-funded. 

We’ve increased funding to programs that divert people out of the criminal justice system and provide a pathway for success for those exiting it through our investments like LEAD, Flip the Script, and Legal Services Day.

We have also continued to invest in building community capacity for action and change.  Programs like REACH (Racial & Ethnic Approaches to Community Health) have built relationships and developed partnerships with jurisdictions and community organizations to move upstream and address our built environment and systemic inequalities.

I want to thank all of you who have contacted my office and attended our budget meetings.  

And thank you to my fellow board members, our employees and volunteers, and our community members for your resilience and determination to serve our residents.  

We have a long way to go. But I am hopeful that together we can bring about the change that we so desperately need.

Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson 

This is an incredible time in our County and an incredibly challenging time to pass a budget.

I share the anger raging through our community about yet another murder of a Black individual at the hands of a police officer. 

I understand the frustration at the disparate impact COVID-19 is having on the Latinx community, the Black community, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). After all, these disparities are widespread, not only in our healthcare system, but in our education system, economy, housing policies, criminal justice system, and more. 

I too am passionate around righting the wrongs of our culture — demilitarizing the police, empowering communities that have long been dis-empowered, investing in BIPOC communities. 

And I know every person on this Board is too. That is why I’m so grateful to have such a committed group to work with. And that’s what our adopted Fiscal Year 2021 budget continues to do. 

This budget makes strategic cuts to misguided criminal justice programs, and key investments in restorative justice services and supports upstream maternal health, and BIPOC and youth-centered programs. 

… Each of the budgets I have worked to pass in my four years as commissioner have been centered on racial equity, our most at risk community members, and upstream investments.  

But never have these causes been more urgent than today. Yet there is much more to do.  This budget doesn’t go far enough. We all recognize that.  But this work continues as we try to transform our society into one centered on racial and social justice.

We have heard from an unprecedented number of community members on this budget and the need to do more. This budget isn’t a final say on what Multnomah County can do, it’s a step in making change.

I look forward to continued conversations with the community, our employees, our department directors, our in-coming District Attorney, our Sheriff, my colleagues and others as we create a more just path forward.

Commissioner Susheela Jayapal 

This budget puts us on a path to re-imagining public safety in the ways that many at the County have been working toward for a long time, and that our public is now demanding of us.

The public is demanding that we move from a system focused on punishment and incarceration to one focused on community-centered support, prevention, and restorative justice. It’s demanding that we reallocate resources from punishment and incarceration to social services and community investment.

This budget begins that reallocation process. By closing a jail dorm and cutting other positions from the Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office, we are able to invest in upstream social supports, community-centered partnerships that serve youth on probation, and employment and legal services to support people in re-entering the community, among other things. The budget also ends supervision fees — a step that reduces our public safety footprint, and also removes a significant source of harm to those involved in the criminal justice system.

In addition to using the budget as a tool for re-imagining public safety, we also need to examine policy and practice within our systems to root out injustice and inequity, and repair harm. The budget notes we’ve approved today begin that process as well. I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues and staff on all of them, including those I introduced: evaluating our electronic monitoring system; analyzing the use of jail labor, with an eye to either eradicating it or paying minimum wage; and developing racial equity indicators to provide transparency about program impact and to guide our budget decision-making.

I recognize that this budget does not reflect the magnitude of change being demanded by protesters, advocates, and employees, some of whom sent us an email early this morning. 

I greatly appreciate your advocacy; I am happy to meet with any of you to explain my support of this budget, to respond to the specific asks you have made, and to work with you to continue the process of change.

This is just a beginning. Truly re-imagining public safety will require a much greater shrinking of our enforcement and incarceration footprint, and a much greater investment in social services, health care, education, and workforce development. 

It will also require a community-led effort to envision the alternatives to enforcement, punishment, and incarceration. It’s difficult to let go of existing systems when we don’t know exactly what the next thing looks like, but that is what we’re going to need to do, or we will never change.

There is no linear path or perfect process towards the necessary change. We’re going to have to try some things, and we will make mistakes along the way. But if the past few months have shown us anything, it is that change is possible. In responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, we changed our lives and systems in ways we would never have thought possible. We did so in response to a viral pandemic. We can also do so in response to the pandemic that is racism. That underlying pandemic is much deeper, much more entrenched, and much more harmful than COVID-19; but with your continued advocacy, we can create change.

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