Projects: Using Intermediate Sanctions in Portland, Oregon

Vera researchers conducted a study for the Department of Community Justice (DCJ) in Multnomah County, Oregon, on how the county was using intermediate sanctions—drug treatment, community service, day reporting, and jail—in lieu of prison when people on probation, parole, and under postprison supervision violated the conditions of their release. The findings led to changes in policy that quickly resulted in better outcomes.

Key Findings
The researchers found, among other things, that Multnomah County relied heavily on jail to sanction those who violate release conditions. Of the 30 percent of the supervised population who were sanctioned, 92 percent received jail time at some point during their supervision. Moreover, the use of jail as an intermediate sanction correlated with higher rates of recidivism. In comparison to a similar group, people who received jail as an intermediate sanction were 76 percent more likely to have their supervision revoked.

Finding that a jail stay alone did not lead to better outcomes, Vera researchers recommended that DCJ consider reducing jail stays for violators and expanding the use of other sanctions. Acting on this suggestion led to improvements in outcomes. By removing barriers to alternative sanctions and expanding their use, officials empowered DCJ staff to respond to violations with swifter, more certain sanctions, including jail. In the year since the changes were implemented, Multnomah County used 80 fewer jail beds each day—a significant cost savings—and rearrest rates declined by 2 percent.

Why This Research Matters
More than five million people in the United States are living under community supervision and many will end up in prison for violating their release conditions (and not for committing a new offense). A return to prison for noncriminal behavior is costly for the state and destructive to individuals trying to reenter society. Intermediate sanctions can forestall a return to prison by offering a stepped hierarchy of alternative penalties and programs. In helping Multnomah County measure the effectiveness of these sanctions, Vera has helped provide a model for reform-minded jurisdictions across the country. 

Video of Multnomah County Board briefing by Vera

For more information, contact Peggy McGarry.

Assessing the effectiveness of intermediate sanctions in Multnomah County, Oregon
In the 1990s the Department of Community Justice (DCJ) in Multnomah County, Oregon, initiated a series of evidence-based reforms intended to shift resources and change its supervision approach. This study by the Vera Institute of Justice is one of a number of studies the DCJ has solicited to look...