African American adults continue to be arrested and jailed in Multnomah County at a far higher rate than their white counterparts, and the disparity has grown since 2014, according to a Nov. 25 report.
The 43-page report, prepared by The W. Haywood Burns Institute of Oakland, follows up on a 2015 report funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation intended to help cities and counties reduce their reliance on jail and prison.
The new report found that in general, the rate of arrest and conviction in the county has lessened since the last analysis. But many of the disparities have gotten worse.
"There are some things when you look at this data that are good, because raw numbers have gone down since 2014, right?" said Michael Finley, the Burns Institute chief of strategy and implementation. "But the nuance is that the disparities still continue. And I think that actually makes Multnomah similar to a lot of the other jurisdictions we're working with."
Among the findings based on analysis of Multnomah County justice data:
• Black adults are 4.9 times as likely as whites to have their case reviewed by the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office — a figure that the report uses as a proxy for arrests.
• Black adults are 4.8 times as likely as whites to have a case prosecuted, and they are 4.6 times as likely to be convicted.
• Latino adults in Multnomah County are 1.2 times as likely as whites to have a case reviewed by prosecutors, 1.3 times as likely to have a case prosecuted, and 1.2 times as likely to be convicted.
• Asian and Pacific Islander adults and Native American adults are less likely than white adults to be referred to prosecutors, charged or convicted.
Click here to read the Pamplin/InvestigateWest series: Unequal Justice
In response to the report, Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw said her agency's work on disparities will continue. "It is important for us to continue to dig deeper into the context of the data and identify opportunities to improve the service we provide," Outlaw said. "Reports such as these help us to realize that over-representation of certain races continues to exist in the criminal justice system and in our stops. The real question is why."
While the report found that disparities by population continue at all stages of the criminal system — the report highlight seven such stages in all — the levels of disparity described in the report tend to level off or decrease in later stages, noted an analysis responding to the report that was released by Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill .
Underhill's response also noted that the disparities in stages controlled by prosecutors have improved since 2014, the last year for which data was analyzed.
"We are proud of our efforts, which (have) helped reduce disparities in the rate of prison sentences from 2014 across all but one demographic studied in this report," said the analysis.
Underhill's response cited the report's findings that once in the system, white adults were more likely to be convicted of a crime, at a rate of 59%, as compared to any other ethnicity.
Report follows reforms
A report issued in 2000 found similar disparities in the county justice system, prompting a variety of promises to reform, such as issuing annual reports on the topic. No annual reports were ever issued.
After the report based on 2014 data was issued in early 2016, county leaders pushed more aggressively on the topic.
Among the reforms adopted so far:
• In 2017, Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington county prosecutors changed their charging protocol for fare evaders on Trimet, halting the use of the charge of "interfering with public transportation" in those cases.
• In 2017, Underhill's agency pushed for a Law-Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, called LEAD, as well as a program called Treatment First, intended to substitute counseling and treatment for low-level drug arrests.
• The Multnomah County Justice Reinvestment Program, implementing a 2014 state law, uses committees composed of representatives across the criminal justice system to review the cases of nonviolent offenders and look for alternatives to prison.
• In 2018, the county launched the Diane Wade House, offering transitonal housing in Gresham to African American women who've been involved in the criminal justice system.
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