The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners on Thursday reluctantly approved $2.6 million in cuts to public safety after a significant reduction in funding from the Legislature.
Cuts to the County’s Department of Community Justice will result in the loss of more than 19 positions including corrections counselors, parole and probation officers, managers and executive staff and the elimination of the department’s Change Center, a cognitive behavioral therapy program for people on supervision.
The Legislative reductions also impact the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, but the Board voted Thursday to use emergency contingency funds through March 15 to avoid the immediate closure of a jail dorm.
“I believe it would be irresponsible to close a jail dorm immediately,” Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said during Thursday’s board meeting. “Closing a dorm would put the system into crisis. More thoughtful planning needs to happen.”
The County’s Justice Reinvestment Program, administered by the County’s Local Public Safety Coordinating Council, will also absorb cuts. The program was designed to reduce prison spending by providing supervision and services for defendants who can remain safely in the community. But moving forward, the program will serve fewer people in order to meet the budget constraint (Watch our video on Justice Reinvestment).
“During the legislative session, there were so many meetings and phone calls trying to explain the importance of this funding. I’m sad to say that message did not get through,” Kafoury said. “At the end of the day it means less supervision, fewer services, more people going to prison who would otherwise have a chance to turn their lives around,”
Corrections counselors testified Thursday, asking the Board to reconsider the cuts. Dave Riley, a veteran corrections counselor for the County, said the Change Center staff help people on supervision who experience homelessness, navigate mental illness and live with physical disabilities. They connect clients with subsidized housing, food benefits, case management, bus tickets, new IDs, travel to appointments and cognitive behavioral therapy.
“We help folks get what they need so they don’t reoffend,” said corrections counselor Megan Gallagher. Gallagher had other reasons to be worried.
“I’m set to be eliminated,” she said. “My wife is pregnant with our second child. We have an 18-month-old and a kid on the way.”
Corrections counselor Megan Candrian said she racked up $100,000 in student loans so she could get the skills that would enable her to do this work.
“I just want you to know it’s a big deal what we do. It's hard work and it matters,” she said.
Erika Preuitt, interim director of the Department of Community Justice, called the cuts devastating. Pruitt’s team looked across the department for ways to make cuts, less than three months after the Board passed a tight fiscal year budget that forced departments to make painful cuts.
But when faced with the decision of how to close the gap, Pruitt had to consider the Change Center’s declining participation while nonprofit partners are providing community, treatment and housing services.
The Board voted unanimously to support the cuts, but lamented the choice and vowed to push the Legislature next session. “This is not an easy decision for us, but I do trust in the leadership we have here. There have been painful cuts across the board,” said Commissioner Lori Stegmann.
“Multnomah County has been such a strong partner with the state to revise the system and to make it more just,” said Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson. “What has happened is really a slap in the face to the long-standing partnership to change the way we deliver justice in our community.”