A prosecutor’s role in bail, pre-trial release decisions

The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office was proud to recently host the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge to discuss the role prosecutors have when it comes to making bail and pre-trial release decisions.

Multnomah County is committed to taking a proactive look at how it uses jail space. The primary purpose of a jail is to detain those awaiting trial who pose a danger to public safety or who are at high risk of failing to appear for future court dates. To that end, Multnomah County recently received a $2 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to safely reduce the number of people in jail.

The conference was held at the Oregon Department of Justice office in Portland. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum highlighted the work her office is doing in numerous areas that benefit our state. The District Attorney’s Office thanks AG Rosenblum for her generosity in allowing us to use her conference space.

Photo: Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum

Photo: Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum

At the conference, members discussed disproportionality in the criminal justice system and jail populations. In Multnomah County, the jail population is disproportionately black. This is a trend in other jurisdictions as well and the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office remains committed to addressing and finding equitable solutions.

“The MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge is based upon reducing unnecessary jail as well as addressing racial and ethnic disparities,” said David LaBahn current president of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. “The role of APA is to help facilitate the prosecutor component and the peer-to-peer exchanges between some of the largest and finest offices in the country to improve communities throughout the United States. The leadership of Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill is significant in moving offices forward to meet the significant challenges.”

Photo: David LaBahn - President of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys

Photo: David LaBahn – President of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys

During the conference, Dr. Kris Henning, a professor and chair of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Portland State University, provided detailed analysis of risk-based assessment tools that are available to determine whether or not a person is likely to reoffend or flee while on pre-trial release. Other presenters included Multnomah County Local Public Safety Coordinating Council Executive Director Abbey Stamp, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Dailey, Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Caroline Wong, Multnomah County District Manager for the department of Community Justice Wende Jackson, Assistant Prosecutor for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office Myrna Perez-Drace, Milwaukee County Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Altenburg, First Assistant of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office Tom Berg, Pima County Chief Deputy District Attorney Amelia Cramer and Patrick Griffin, Senior Program Officer with the MacArthur Foundation.

In Multnomah County, there three facilities owned and operated by Multnomah County to hold individuals. The Multnomah County Detention Center (MCDC) is a maximum security facility in downtown Portland. All bookings are processed at MCDC. Roughly, there are 35,000 inmates processed at MCDC each year. MCDC has a capacity of 447 inmates. The Multnomah County Inverness Jail (MCIJ) has a capacity of 1,037 inmates. Currently, MCIJ is funded to hold 744 inmates. The Donald E. Long Juvenile Detention Center is unique in that it only houses youth, generally 12 to 18 years of age.

Jail beds in Multnomah County have been reduced by 118 by closing two dorms at MCIJ in September 2016 and June 2017, according to the 2017 Multnomah County Corrections Grand Jury report. Currently, there are 1,192 beds funded in the two Multnomah County adult jails. Normally, the jails are 90-95% full.

As stated on its website, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge recognizes there are better, fairer, and more effective alternatives to excessive jail incarceration. The Safety and Justice Challenge will support a network of competitively selected local jurisdictions committed to finding ways to safely reduce jail incarceration.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including over-incarceration, global climate change, nuclear risk, and significantly increasing financial capital for the social sector.

The Association of Prosecuting Attorneys provides valuable resources such as training and technical assistance to prosecutors in an effort to develop proactive and innovative prosecutorial practices that prevent crime, ensure equal justice and help make our communities safer. District Attorney Rod Underhill has been a former president and is a current board member.

Contact: Brent Weisberg, Communications Director
Phone: 503.988.6567
Email: Brent.Weisberg@nullmcda.us