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County changes plans for new jail

Sheriff says alcohol, drug treatment facility is too expensive now

Multnomah County's money problems have forced a sudden redesign of a North Portland jail that has been in the works for nearly seven years.

Sheriff Bernie Giusto says the current county budget crunch and the loss of state funding because of Measure 28's failure have forced him to abandon the original plan to set aside more than half the space in the $58 million Wapato Correctional Facility for treatment of inmates addicted to alcohol and drugs.

As designed, Giusto said, the facility would have driven up operational costs far beyond what the county can afford right now and what county officials think voters would approve.

The money to operate the Wapato facility Ñ an estimated $15 million to $18 million annually Ñ was slated for a property tax levy on the ballot either this November or next year.

'We're going to get the keys to this new facility next spring, (but) we're not going to have any money to operate it,' Giusto said. He said it became clear that operating a treatment program in the new facility would be too costly because of county and state budget crises.

Giusto said a study of Multnomah County's pilot project for treating addicts in the Washington County jail revealed that such a program costs about $137 per day per inmate. The program in the Washington County jail was cut last month.

The normal cost for housing inmates is about $110 per inmate daily.

The design changes planned for the Wapato jail will leave it looking more like a conventional jail, with dorm-style sleeping arrangements, 'detention-grade' ceilings, walls and lighting, and guards instead of counselors.

Construction of Wapato, held up for five years because of environmental litigation, began in December 2001. Construction was funded through a $79.7 million levy approved by county voters in 1996 to pay for several criminal justice improvements.

Part of the package was described in the voters' guide as 'two 75-bed, secure facilities which respond to a lack of resources for treatment of offenders whose substance abuse is a factor in their repeated criminal activity.'

With the construction funding secured, the county went through the controversial process of siting the jail, telling residents the facility would house 525 beds, 300 of them reserved for inmates with drug and alcohol problems.

Reopen restitution center?

County Chairwoman Diane Linn said she supports Giusto's decision, a change that does not require a vote from the commission.

She said she is sure the county will 'be able to live up to the letter and spirit of the ballot language. É This community has been enlightened about drug and alcohol treatment for a long time, and we will not give up on that.'

One way the county could make good on that promise, Linn noted, is to provide a treatment facility elsewhere.

Linn and Giusto are pursuing the possibility of reopening the minimum-security Multnomah County Restitution Center, at 1115 S.W. 11th Ave., to house alcoholics and drug addicts. The 16-year-old, 160-bed center, which was closed last month to save money, had served as a secure work-release program.

Still, it's unclear where county officials will find the money to reopen it as a treatment center.

About three of every four criminals in the county justice system suffer from drug and alcohol problems, and experts say that confronting those addictions is a proven way to reduce crime.

'The evidence is compelling that when you offer treatment, you get great results,' said Tim Hartnett, executive director of Comprehensive Options for Drug Abusers, Oregon's largest nonprofit in the field.

'And great results means families reunited, a reduction in violence, people moving off reliance on public support and onto employment rolls.'

Direct results

Dan Noelle, the former Multnomah County sheriff who helped persuade the public to pay for the new jail, said one of the big selling points was the promise of 'being more progressive in terms of alcohol and drug treatment.'

Noelle said treatment and intervention 'aren't just a promise that was made to the voters. They're also key elements to reducing crime in the streets.'

'The state's giving us less money to house their prisoners, and that's affecting everybody's bottom line,' sheriff's department Lt. Jay Heidenreich, the county's project manager, said Friday.

Heidenreich said the original design was modeled after a treatment center that the county ran for several years out of a former jail in Washington County. The program was canceled in January, along with the work-release program at the restitution center, saving it $2.3 million.