The racial disparities that have plagued Multnomah County's criminal justice system are only getting worse, according to a report released Monday.
The report, published by the W. Haywood Burns Institute for Justice Fairness and Equity, is meant to reflect changes implemented by the county after a 2015 report (PDF here) found stark racial inequities within the local jail system. However, the new data shows that the likelihood of Black and Latino adults being held in jail before trial compared to white adults has only increased over the past five years.
Before jumping into the data, a reminder: As of 2018, Black adults made up 6 percent of Multnomah County population, Latino adults make up 10 percent, and white adults make up 74 percent.
According to the report's data, Black adults are 8.3 times more likely to held in jail before their trial date than white adults in 2019. Black adults were only 7 times more likely in 2014. Latino adults are 1.8 times more likely to be in jail before trial than white adults in 2019, compared to being 1.5 times more likely in 2014.
The report also find that white adults are more likely to be offered to enlist in a diversion program—an alternative to a formal case offered by a judge that often leads to a lesser sentence, or one centered more on community service, rehabilitation, or mental health treatment than jail time. The new report finds white adults in Multnomah County are 1.3 times more likely to be diverted than Black adults. The country's overall reliance on diversion programs has dropped 36 percent in the past five years.
In a written response to the report, Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill noted that the report didn't include data on the county's pre-booking diversion program, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD). The LEAD program was created in 2017, in part as a response to the 2015 report on the county's racial disparities. Underhill writes that county data from 2017 shows that Black adults were being diverted through LEAD at a rate four times higher than that of white adults.
The report found minor improvements. While Black adults are still 4.2 times more likely to be arrested than white adults in 2019, that disparity rate has decreased by .7 since 2014. And, while far more Black adults are convicted of a crime than white adults in Multnomah County, the number of total convictions among Black adults has decreased over the past five years. The disparity gap between Black people and white people being sentenced to prison in Multnomah County has also slightly shrunk.
Underhill applauded the incremental lessening of some racial disparities identified by the new report, and said he wasn't surprised that the report still found Black adults overrepresented in the county justice system.
"There is a lot to learn from this most recent report, but whether disparities exist is not one of them," writes Underhill. "We know that fact to be true."
The county's Local Public Safety Coordinating Council (LPSCC) requested this five-year update from the Burns Institute. In a press release, LPSCC director Abbey Stamp said the report is a reminder that the county needs 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," Stamp said.