Multnomah County in Portland has successfully landed a grant of $2 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. This grant is aimed at stemming the racial disparity in Portland’s prisons.

Multnomah County will use this grant to create a 21-bed shelter which will adequately take care of women of black American descent who are waiting to have a hearing in a criminal court, or are generally on probation. It has been dutifully observed by county officials that black American women are more inclined (as compared to white women) to serve longer time in jail when they are on probation.

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“That told us the community needs to beef up jail alternatives for these women,” said Abbey Stamp, executive director of Multnomah County’s Local Public Safety Coordinating Council. This council which sits on a monthly basis to preside over reforms (as to criminal justice legislations) is composed of county leaders, police chiefs and city leaders.

With this new project brought into the scene, it is anticipated that the mean time every woman would be staying in the shelter would be reduced to less than four months. These women would be well catered to with detailed intensive case management, as well as support facilitaties pertaining to their transfer into permanent housing. The shelter is expected to adequately disperse a host of curative services to these women cutting across cognitive therapy down to trauma treatment.

The ultimate inspiration behind this humanitarian project is to free up jail space for the people who are more a more obvious threat to public safety. The county has been making significant efforts to chop down on the racial disparities among those who have been kept behind bars. Such racial disparities protrude into light by the overrepresentation of black people through every phase of the Multnomah County’s adult criminal justice system. Blacks account for 27% of the number of people serving jail sentences in this county.

This year, there was a reduction in the population of inmates as the headcount fell from 1,104 recorded for May last year to the 953 which was recorded for this year. The department of community justice, in a bid to reduce the differences in the number of white men serving lesser sanctions than African Americans, has equally brought down the jail sanctions for probation violation.

County Chairwoman Deborah Kafoury applauded the grant, relishing the immense advantages it will bring in reducing the “unnecessary incarceration” for trivial violations of people who are mentally challenged.

The Oregon Justice Resource Center also gave thumbs up to the grant award as well as complimenting the admirable strides of the county.

“Providing alternatives to jail as the County is proposing to do with the creation of the new shelter will help justice-involved women and their families avoid the lasting damage incarceration can do while giving them a chance to rehabilitate themselves in a way that doesn’t compromise public safety,” said Alice Lundell, who the spokesperson for the Oregon Justice Resource Center.

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