November 25, 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jessica Morkert-Shibley
(971) 563-3735 

Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Multnomah County's Justice System 

W. Haywood Burns Institute report provides an update on racial disparities in Multnomah County’s justice system, serves as a starting point for strategies to promote equity

PORTLAND, Ore. — As part of its continuing work through the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, a nationwide initiative aimed at addressing the drivers of over-incarceration and the misuse and overuse of jails, Multnomah County is releasing a new report on racial disparities at key decision points in the County’s criminal justice system. 

The report, Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Multnomah County, includes arrest*, charging, assignment of counsel, pretrial release, case processing, sentencing and post-conviction data. It was produced by the W. Haywood Burns Institute and comes at the request of the County’s Local Public Safety Coordinating Council

The report was designed to identify where, and to what degree, racial and ethnic disparities exist in the justice system. It also serves as an update to a similar report produced in 2015 that identified disparities at key decision points in the justice system.    

THE FINDINGS 

The overall rate of involvement of people of color in the justice system decreased from 2014 to 2019 at several key decision points in Multnomah County’s justice system. In some instances, there was a reversal in past trends, including a notable improvement in disparity for Black defendants sentenced to prison. However, significant disparities continue to impact communities of color, according to the report. A summary of the key findings begins on page five. 

The Burns Institute analysis used several measures to gauge those impacts, including the rate of disparity relative to a specific demographics’ population in Multnomah County, as well as comparisons to prior decision points. For example, the analysis compares cases issued for prosecution to cases referred for prosecution. The sources of these data are the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office, Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, and the Multnomah County Department of Community Justice. 

The report does not answer why disparities exist, but does serve as a starting point for strategies to promote equity and reduce disparities. 

“This is our second comprehensive analysis about racial disparities; it will not be our last,” said Abbey Stamp, executive director of the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council. “We need to rigorously hold ourselves accountable and keep moving together toward a more just criminal system. Moving forward requires evaluating the impact of past policy decisions, taking stock of where we are now, and identifying specific areas of focus to push ahead.”   

The County will reassess policies and programs implemented after the initial 2015 Racial and Ethnic Disparities report and continue to engage with community members and policymakers to create a path forward. This work will happen alongside members of the Burns Institute who specialize in community engagement.  

Based in Oakland, the W. Haywood Burns Institute for Justice, Fairness & Equity provides supplemental support to jurisdictions across the country selected through the Safety and Justice Challenge. That support is focused on enhancing local efforts to reduce racial and ethnic disparities. It includes strengthening local collaboration, engaging with communities of color most impacted by the criminal justice system, and strengthening local data capacity and use to address racial and ethnic disparities.

 *There were no arrest data available for Multnomah County. Instead a proxy of all cases received and reviewed by the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office.