Members of the Multnomah County Local Public Safety Coordinating Council (LPSCC) executive committee heard for the first time on Dec. 14 from the facilitator hired to help the council build a roadmap toward a re-envisioned criminal legal system.
Territory — a consulting firm that focuses on remote collaboration, visualized group facilitation and human-centered design — shared its vision on how to help LPSCC and its partners push progress towards a just and equitable criminal legal system.
The firm is not a justice system expert, stressed Global Managing Partner Parker Lee, “but we think that’s an advantage, because you all are the experts. What we’re great at is unzipping the mind to see where you’re going to go.”
Territory’s introduction to the LPSCC was the latest step in the process set in motion by a collective pledge by healthcare, human services and law enforcement representatives, as well as defense attorneys, community providers, victims’ rights advocates and officials from county and city government, at January’s What Works in Public Safety Conference. There, the group agreed to focus strategies on transforming the current system into one that is adequately equipped to respond to behavior rooted in social problems, such as racism and poverty, and grow approaches grounded in housing, health, behavioral health and culturally specific supports.
The What Works pledge preceded both the national and international outcry for racial justice in the wake of murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May and the months of protests in Portland demanding change. In June, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners passed a $2 million public safety package to reinvest funds from the punitive portions of the criminal legal system to upstream prevention, diversion, and reentry programs focused on the Black community and other communities of color.
The package included:
The elimination of fines and fees for people on parole or probation in Multnomah County and further legislative reform on the matter.
The expansion of a Community Legal Clinic to help people involved in the criminal justice system resolve legal fees and fines, outstanding warrants, expunge records, obtain housing and jobs, regain their driver's licenses, and more.
The reduction of a jail dorm and expansion of re-entry support for people leaving prison or jail through Flip the Script, a housing and support program for African American men and women that provides employment, housing, peer support and opportunities for advocacy.
The expansion of community-centered partnerships serving families of youth on probation.
An analysis of existing programs and practices including law enforcement training, use of force, electronic monitoring, and jail labor.
The actions build on existing reform efforts underway at the County, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge efforts to reform the pretrial system, and are part of a larger Multnomah County justice and equity agenda.
But Monday’s meeting with Territory marked the beginning of hard, yet essential, work to transform the justice system — fused with visual creativity, collaboration and coordination, speakers said.
“We have control of legal, budget and policy levers that can completely change how our local systems function,” said Abbey Stamp, LPSCC’s executive director. “We also have the voices of advocates of those impacted by systems who need to engage in any work we endeavor to accomplish.
“We are the content experts. We know our business. Territory will serve as our shepherd.”
In a time when organizations have opted to forego in-person meetings for the sake of safety amid the pandemic, Territory brings expertise and comfort with remote facilitation, the speakers shared.
The firm competed with 18 different respondents to the LPSCC’s request for proposals, originally released on March 13, 2020. By the time a selection committee identified three finalists, the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial justice movement had significantly impacted adjudication, incarceration and other criminal legal system functions.
“One of our strengths is that we bring out the best from the people around the table,” said Natalie Born, an innovation strategist with Territory. “Regardless of background, education or socio-economic status, our job is to ensure that there is no brilliance left behind. It’s our role to help organizations, organize their thoughts and draw out their ideas visually and ensure everyone at the table feels heard and understood.”
The firm suggests four guiding principles for the project, Born said:
One conversation at a time.
Be visual: not just thinking, but saying and visualizing.
Keep humans at the center of the work; find the voices of those affected.
Open, explore and close topics separately.
Territory representatives shared that they often see workable solutions come off the back of unconventional ideas; the best ideas may be inspired by the worst ones.
Groups also reach decisions and understanding, 14 percent faster when they use visual thinking, said Born.
“Visual thinking is a huge part of these sessions,” she said. “We’re going to ask questions. We’re going to explore, then develop stories that will help us make decisions. It will recreate the experience of being in the same room.”
The work ahead will unfold with two teams: a visioning core team and a visioning steering committee.
The visioning core team will meet weekly for 60 to 90-minute meetings. Territory will assist the visioning steering committee with developing two, five and 10 years visions, acknowledging that large-scale change takes time and should be measurable. The team will also explore strategies that grow health and housing responses.
The visioning steering committee will meet monthly and is charged with making key decisions, providing strategic leadership, reviewing progress and giving feedback and approvals.
LPSCC and Territory will move through four distinct phases over the next several months, with a goal to launch in January:
Phase 1 (month 1): Kick off workshop with core team and the creation of an engagement plan.
Phase 2 (months 2 to 4): Administer a digital survey, conduct four focus groups and compile a findings report.
Phase 3 (months 5 to 7): Facilitate workshops and create a graphical visualization, and through that create another capture report.
Phase 4 (months 8 to 10): Create a summary report.
The 27-member executive committee weighed in on the presentation. “How are we going to determine who we’re talking to for the focus groups?” asked one member.
“That is all determined in the first phase,” said Born. “We will do discovery on who needs to speak and be heard so we can reach out to them.”
Stamp expressed optimism that the partnership between LPSCC and Territory would be fruitful.
“We all hope it will be the right process to lead us to a fully realized vision and strategic plan across public safety systems that grows health and housing responses, shrinks the legal system footprint and outlasts turnover and election cycles,” said Stamp.
Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury echoed Stamp’s anticipation, but also issued a challenge to the group to act with urgency.
“We’re going to give ourselves the room to have those difficult conversations, and we’re going to carve out the time. I believe it’s the only way we’re going to come to a new place,” she said. “Shame on us if a year from now we’re still having these [same] conversations. I think this is a great start and I'm looking forward to our next conversation.”