Study finds jail before trial doubles incarceration chances in Oregon
Defendants detained in Oregon jails were more than twice as likely to be incarcerated as part of their sentence compared to those released before court proceedings began, according to a study presented in May.
The study also found that defendants who spent long periods in jail before trial faced a greater likelihood of receiving incarceration as a part of their sentence. The findings are consistent with other states’ findings.
Criminal Justice Commission, a state agency that focuses on criminal justice systems throughout Oregon, commissioned the study.
Ken Sanchagrin, research director at the Criminal Justice Commission, said the study was particularly insightful because it controlled for predicting factors such as criminal conviction and type of charge. Two cases with similar backgrounds could still have different detainment results.
“Holding all else equal,” he said, “if you’re held pretrial, you’re much more likely to be incarcerated.”
The reasons a court may hold someone pretrial over a similar defendant are outside the scope of the study, but can come from a number of possibilities, said Bridget Budbill, a pretrial program analyst for the state. For instance, some defendants may pose a flight risk. Some may have a mental health crisis and need to stay under supervision. Some people simply cannot post bail.
Defendants in Multnomah County are interviewed before booking to determine their risk of reoffending and failing to appear for court, officials said. That assessment is then presented to the judge, who makes a decision on release.
Certain charges, such as domestic violence, can automatically keep a defendant in jail.
Wende Jackson, a senior manager at the Department of Community Justice, said the county has to consider alleged victims as well as a person’s right to due process.
“Everyone wants to err on the side of safety, which keeps people in longer but might do more damage. You’re caught in a precarious place,” Jackson said. “We don’t want to do more harm.”
Of course, staying in jail can have significant repercussions for defendants. Jackson said people can get better legal representation when released, as well as tend to their family and work obligations.
“If you have a family and a job, it’s really hard,” Jackson said. “If you keep calling in to say you can’t make it to work, you’re probably going to lose your job.”
When ruling on some sentences, judges may consider how a defendant behaves while on release. For instance, an Oregon man convicted of a 2017 bank robbery received a shorter prison sentence because the judge took into account the man’s attempts at rehabilitation through therapy and full-time employment.
The study also found a defendant was more likely to be incarcerated after their 30th day in jail. Some other studies suggest defendants are more likely to agree to a plea deal after a month in jail so they can leave quicker, likely through probation or time served, the report said.
Portland State University researchers studied data from nine Oregon counties, replicating similar studies in other states, such as Kentucky. The PSU researchers found that in Multnomah County, 45.5% of defendants were detained before their case began in court. More than half of the defendants reviewed for the study were facing property crime charges and more than three-quarters were male. The average length of pretrial detention was 60.5 days.
The study was presented to Oregon’s Legislature this past session. Mike Schmidt, the commission’s executive director, said a state task force has yet to draft recommendations based on the study.
He said lawmakers’ questions helped identify the next area of study, including how many detained defendants were unable to pay bail and how much of a factor money plays in the criminal conviction process.
“When you start to see how who stays in and who gets out relates to prison (populations), it really sets up a pretty bad picture of wealth being an important aspect of whether or not you’re going end up going to prison,” Schmidt said.