Why "deflection" is doomed

The problem.

In recriminalizing hard street drugs, the Oregon legislature adopted a model reminiscent of the successful diversion programs that have been in place for many decades for drunk drivers. For some reason, the pinheads in Salem insisted on calling it "deflection" instead of diversion, but it's the same general idea: Get treatment for your substance problems, and you will avoid a criminal conviction. The new system is supposed to start less than two months from now.

But the more you read about it, the more likely it seems that "deflection" isn't going to do much good in Portland, at least not for a long time. It probably isn't going to get many addicts off the streets, out of the tents, or out of your car, and it probably isn't going to save too many lives.

The reasons are numerous.

We've already seen that the people running Multnomah County, particularly the county commission chair and the district attorney, are hostile to recriminalization and are doing their darnedest to make sure that there will never be any adverse consequences for drug use, by anyone, ever. Those two want the cops to simply drop the arrested junkies off at a service center in a different part of town, and drive away. If an addict decides they'd rather get high again than get treated, it will be their right to wander off to the next "harm reduction" stand for some fresh drug paraphernalia. And there will be no limit to how many times they can do that.

With that as the program, there will never be any change to the sorry status quo on Portland streets. And until there's a change in the dynamics on the county commission, which probably isn't going to happen soon, that is probably the program we are going to have.

But let's say, just for the sake of argument, that somehow the new district attorney sees to it that addicts who refuse to check in for treatment are kept in the criminal justice system. What would that setup look like?

KGW took a thoughtful look at that prospect, here. There are all sorts of problems.

First of all, what treatment? There isn't nearly enough substance abuse and mental illness treatment capacity in Multnomah County, in terms of numbers of beds or in terms of numbers of professionals. Addicts who say they want help may not have anywhere to get it. In that case, can you keep them in jail? I doubt that state law will allow it.

Now, I'm going to leave aside the limitations of treatment – in the long run, it often doesn't work – and move on to the next problem, which pertains to those who refuse to check in and try to clean themselves up. In many cases, they can't be prosecuted for anything, because there aren't enough public defenders to represent them. And so even if they show up for their court dates, which is a big "if," eventually the judge may let them go free.

And finally, even if they're convicted, it will be a low misdemeanor, with a light penalty. Maybe a fine, which they won't pay, or a short jail term, which will be cut even shorter for lack of jail space. It's not like anybody's going to spend a month or two in jail for possession. And so the "stick" part of the "carrot and stick" approach isn't going to be much of a factor.

Measure 110, which decriminalized hard street drugs, was an epic disaster, but you can't just wish drug addiction away. As I've said here several times, Oregon needs a moonshot on substance abuse and mental illness, and it would take billions of dollars. The current "deflection" gyrations are just ignoring the obvious, at least in Portland. The rules may change, but the detachment from reality continues.


  1. This whole plan seems to be as designed. Hundreds of millions flow into non-profits while the county can't seem to fund the required treatment beds. The state refuses to raise the pay for public defenders. No one seems to move with any urgency to provide the services required but you know what.....a billiom dollars seem to show up every session for Christmas Tree bills. Thieves.

  2. Lather, rinse, repeat. As I've said before, nothing's happening very gradually.

    1. Gradually the nonprofits are sucking more money into their payrolls and away from solutions.

  3. The best way to judge a persons place in the world is to first look at their shoes.

    1. First judgment in a job interview

  4. I can't quit you baby, but I got to put you down for a while (Willie Dixon). Sung by the appropriately named blues great, Otis Rush.

    The way things are going we're all going to be in the poor house soon. Somebody re-ordered the same grocery items that he bought a few years ago (Walmart) and they were about 400% higher! But don't worry, the big boys got inflation under control.

  5. Here's an idea. Shift the $26 million and 86 DEI budget from the Oregon health department to pay for your moonshot. It won't be be enough money by your account but you gotta start somewhere.


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