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Grand jury urges Multnomah County officials to open empty Wapato jail

Annual report also calls for crackdown on abuse of sick and comp time in sheriff's office

The annual corrections grand jury urged Multnomah County law-enforcement and political leaders Friday to find a way to open the never-used Wapato Jail; closely monitor the county's other jails and their employees, including cracking down on abuses of sick and compensatory time; privatize inmate health care, and better identify possibly dangerous inmates.

In a 20-page report distributed by the Multnomah County district attorney's office, the six grand jurors noted that they interviewed 102 people, including Sheriff Bernie Giusto three times. This report is different from the scathing district attorney's office report last month, which lambasted the sheriff's office for lax oversight, especially of sick-time use and jail-bed costs.

Mandated by Oregon law, the grand jury meets for several months each year to examine the interlocking parts of the county's corrections systems for adults and juveniles, including in some cases taking into account outside concerns and political realities that influence corrections policies.

'The jail system is forced to react to outside pressures from many sources,' the grand jurors wrote. 'These include law-enforcement policies, parole and probation supervision policies, community mental health practices, judicial sentencing practices, and funding allocations from the Board of County Commissioners. While ideally these components should work together in a logical overall plan deigned to enhance community safety, we have heard testimony regarding several troubling aspects of this design that we believe should be the subject of continued study and oversight.'

Those 'aspects' are supplemental to the main thrust of the grand jury's suggestions and criticisms, and include:

• Mentally ill inmates housed in jails instead of facilities better suited to care for and rehabilitate them.

• The county continuing to house state inmates under Oregon Senate Bill 1145, which promises reimbursement for the cost - which the Legislature in recent years has failed to do.

• The 'extraordinary cost' of operating the Donald E. Long Juvenile Detention Facility, which far outpaces the per-bed costs of operating the county's adult jails. 'We note that only a small fraction of the juvenile beds there are actually occupied by juveniles under court order from Multnomah County Juvenile Court,' the grand jurors wrote. 'The vast majority of juveniles housed there are in voluntary treatment programs, are juveniles from other counties, or are being held there for trial as adults as a matter of discretion.'

But the bulk of the recommendations came from the grand jury's direct purview.

The jurors called Wapato 'vital to the safety of the community.'

They asked county officials to "maintain an active oversight committee' that would be 'required to investigate the conclusions and recommendations of each year's corrections grand jury.'

In addition, they point to Washington County's model for privatizing inmate health care for its cost savings, and ask Multnomah County officials to funnel that savings into 'community-based mental health treatment.'

And they pointed to the 2005 murder of inmate Dennis Saban at the hands of another inmate as one of several examples where jail officials failed to properly investigate an inmate's history and where they were also perhaps overworked and making poor decisions.

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