Our Opinion: Do more to block drugs at jail
In July 2019, Richard Forrest, an inmate in Multnomah County's Inverness Jail in North Portland, died of a drug overdose.
How did he get access to enough drugs to kill him, even though he'd been behind bars for three months? An investigation by Portland Tribune reporter Nick Budnick found that his living quarters, in Dorm 9 at Inverness, was swept for contraband after his death. Within the dorm, deputies found not just drugs, but also syringes, lighters, pipes and other banned items. You can find the story here.
And the location is at the center of the mystery: Dorm 9 is designated for the orange-clad work crews that can be seen working throughout the county to clean roadways and homeless camps.
Members of those work crews — according to 12 subsequent indictments in August and Budnick's investigation for the Tribune — were funneling narcotics, which had been left at pre-determined drop sites, into the jail.
In effect, they'd placed drug orders from within the jail and picked them up while out in the community.
Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese now needs to provide the community with some answers.
One former Multnomah County deputy, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said one dorm at Inverness is set up for drug-addicted inmates to get clean. The deputy said that dorm is rife with drugs, undermining its very purpose.
That former deputy said the jail dorms get a thorough "shake-down" only about once per month. That's a fraction of what used to happen.
A spokesman for Reese also said the jail does not track amounts of illegal narcotics seized inside the jail or how many inmates have been cited on a year-to-year basis. We have to ask: Why is that?
There is some good news. Inverness jail is getting a body scanner this month. The devices are expensive — two of them, the other at the downtown Multnomah County Justice Center — have a combined price tag of $330,000. We're all in favor of government agencies using taxpayer money wisely. But investigators began recommending the purchase of body scanners back in 2015. The corrections deputies union has been urging the purchase of the scanners for about as many years.
Meanwhile, such scanners have been put into use in jails in Clackamas, Crook, Josephine, Lane, Polk, Wallowa, Washington and Yamhill counties.
We'd like Sheriff Reese to explain why eight rural and suburban counties beat Multnomah to the punch.
Drug addiction has driven crime rates throughout the nation, and for several decades. Everyone knows that. If inmates can get clean, they have a much better chance of going straight and not returning to crime.
So, for that reason alone, a concerted effort to eradicate addiction inside the jail should be one of the top priorities of the Sheriff's Office and Multnomah County leadership.
A newly obtained $1.2 million federal grant will be a start. It envisions using peer-counseling to help inmates kick their habits. Health officials hope to better connect inmates leaving jail with housing and services to help them find alternatives to crime.
The new information obtained regarding Forrest's death, the 12 indictments and the Portland Tribune's investigation shows one area that needs immediate attention.
We urge the Multnomah County Commission, the county's Health Department and its Mental Health and Addiction Services, and Sheriff Reese's office to formulate a plan, present it to the public, and implement it — along with a more vigorous effort to block drugs, thereby providing an environment that gives inmates a better shot at success — and survival.
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