The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners heard important updates July 23 on the legislative impacts of the County’s Justice Reinvestment Program which is bracing for reductions in funding.
The Multnomah County Justice Reinvestment Program (MCJRP) was established in 2014 to reduce prison use by providing supervision and services for defendants who can be safely kept in the community. The program launched after the Legislature passed the Justice Reinvestment Act (House Bill 3194) in 2013 in response to a swelling prison population.
“We were on the trajectory to build another prison,” Mike Schmidt, executive director of the Criminal Justice Commission told the Board during the Tuesday briefing. “They were projecting, at that time, that we would need to have a prison open by February 2017 to accommodate the growth in our prison population in the state.”
But through Justice Reinvestment, money saved on prison beds was granted back to counties to provide community supervision, services, treatment and accountability. Funds are also given to community-based agencies who serve victims of crime. Today, the program has not only reduced excessive spending on Oregon’s prison population but also maintained public safety and in some counties improved it, Schmidt said.
Multnomah County has reduced a large share of that population. But the state’s funding formula, which is based on the percentage of individuals on felony community supervision in each County, has reduced Multnomah County’s portion of those funds, presenters explained.
“In 2014-2015, Multnomah County’s percentage of (the community supervision) population was about 21 percent,” said Abbey Stamp, executive director of the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council. “Today, it has decreased to 18 percent.”
“That arguably is a success that we get folks off supervision,” continued Stamp, “however, because you are gifted the dollars based on that number, the more successful we are, the less dollars we’re getting. So the structure creates a deficit for our community.”
“There are hard decisions underway.”
Impacts in Multnomah County
Multnomah County’s Justice Reinvestment Program focused on many crimes which carry a presumptive prison sentence, Stamp said while explaining the County’s program. However, the overall effort focuses on improving the justice system as a whole.
The Justice Reinvestment Program created a process where a comprehensive risk and needs assessment is completed before a defendant’s sentencing. And, at a judicial settlement conference, the defendant, their lawyer, the prosecuting attorney, judge and the assessor meet together to discuss the best sentence.
“Multnomah County’s Justice Reinvestment Program was about figuring out who were the right individuals who could be safely supervised in the community instead of going to prison — and utilizing the funds provided by the state to create that process, administer the program, do the assessment and all importantly pay for the services, housing, mentoring and employment,” said Stamp.
People still go to prison, Stamp said. But the program helped push the system about how those who would usually go to prison could thrive and safely remain in the community.
Roughly 1,100 defendants go through the Justice Reinvestment process per year Stamp explained. Justice Reinvestment funds have paid for:
A treatment readiness dorm for defendants at Multnomah County’s Inverness Jail,
Parole and probation officers,
Extensive wrap around services,
Services for victims of crime.
Supplemental funds established in 2017 help provide even more structural support to counties and paying for a data analyst, case worker and supports at the defense bar, as well as a community health worker and law enforcement detail in Multnomah County.
“Everyone across the board has said, ‘This is the right way to do business.’ And if we were to find a pot of gold this is the way we would want to adjudicate every case,” Stamp said.
Among the program’s successes:
67 percent of eligible defendants receive community supervision,
A 6-percent reduction in re-offense rate (over 2 years),
More than 500 victims have been served,
Overall prison intake has been reduced by 40-percent in Multnomah County,
And, as a result the Justice Reinvestment Program, the state has spent $34.5 million less over four years.
“In a perfect world, we would have seen that $34.5 million back here, but that’s not how the formula works,” said Stamp.
The cut also comes as the County faces an additional setback in Senate Bill 1145 funding, which reimburses counties for supervision of felony offenders and helps pay for treatment/alternative programs.
“We have additional cuts with 1145 (Senate Bill 1145) and even though it’s a separate funding stream, the ripple effect is absolutely in play here,” said Stamp.
“It does have a significant impact on how we move forward as a system.”
The County intends to apply for additional supplemental funds in late August, but must compete against other counties in that process.
“We hear there might be more competition for the supplemental funds this year, which might be a challenge for us,” said Stamp. “We won’t know until the fall how much will come through that funding stream. But we want to keep fidelity to the (Justice Reinvestment) model.”
Program leaders are also looking at ways to continue serving the target population.
“We don’t want to serve the same amount of individuals with less,” said Stamp. “We believe the right way to do business across the board is to serve fewer people with the same intensity of support, accountability and supervision. We really like how this works and are absolutely disheartened that not as many folks are going to be able to go through the program because these funding reasons.”
“If we can so clearly demonstrate the outcomes and clear fiscal savings to the state, how can we not get this?” asked Commissioner Sharon Meieran. “The funding formula does seem to be punishing success.”
“The funding formula is written into statute,” said Schmidt. There is broad support for the Justice Reinvestment program and from the legislative perspective: “They’re going to say they funded the formula 100 percent.”
“It's a combination of factors,” said Chair Deborah Kafoury. “Having one of the strongest advocates and authors of Justice Reinvestment, Senator Jackie Winters, pass away this session and the chaos of having the Senate Republicans walk out …… the opportunity to fully analyze and assess the level of funds coming through didn’t happen.
Next year, the Chair said: "we have a short session coming up soon where we’ll be making our case.”