Jail survey quantifies severity of meth epidemic in local area

SALEM -- An overwhelming majority of the 442 male and female Marion County Jail inmates who took part in a recent survey regarding methamphetamine abuse admitted to having used the drug.

This included 71 percent of the men interviewed and 89 percent of females, according to the study.

The report also showed that that whites and Native Americans were more likely to use meth than other racial groups, and that users are almost always unemployed and without a high school diploma.

The survey was performed by Dr. William Brown, an associate professor of criminal justice at Western Oregon University.

Brown was contracted by the Marion County Sheriff's Department this summer to gather statistcal information about that county's inmate population, to discern drug use among genders, races and ages.

Another focus of the study was to discover some of the social and economic forces that propel drug use in Oregon, said Sheriff Raul Ramirez.

"People aren't born into using meth," Ramirez said during a meeting in which the results of Brown's study were unveiled.

About 40 representatives from government and social service agencies, as well as community members, attended the event.

"We need to find what contributes to its use ... and take these factors into consideration," he said. "We can't continue (to fight the problem) using the status quo -- it's not working."

Brown and a group of graduate students conducted the survey on July 9. They were given access to one of the living units within the Marion County Jail facility.

They interviewed a total of 358 male and 81 female inmates. They asked them a series of questions regarding meth use, and inquired about their marital status, education and income level.

Mike Wilkerson, Marion County Undersheriff, said Brown's report provided a level of detail on the underlying reasons for meth use among the county's jail population that his agency and others across the state are sorely lacking.

"We have no data regarding the issue," he said. "We know how many inmates are in jail, the type of crime they committed to get there and when their next court appearance is ... but that's all quantitative.

"This is the first qualitative study we've had," he said.

Brown said there was a 74 percent response rate for the survey. Three out of four (73 percent) of the participants were parents. Sixty-four percent have lived in Oregon for 15 years or longer, suggesting that the majority of the offenders aren't coming from outside the state, Brown said.

The study revealed the following:

* Seventy-six percent of the prisoners earned less than $1,500 a month.

* Sixty-three percent of the males interviewed were not high school graduates; 80 percent of the female prisoners were not.

* Seventy-two percent of males who had children have used the drug, compared to 94 percent of females with kids.

* Forty percent of the participants named methamphetamine as the reason for their inceration. Thirty-eight percent of the fathers said the drug was directly related, while 60 percent of the mothers said it was.

The study also looked at the relationship of race and meth use. More than 80 percent of the 250 whites interviewed admitted to using meth at some point. About 30 Native Americans were questioned for the survey, and almost all admitted to past meth use.

The Latino population had the lowest percentage of users in Marion County Jail, the study said.

Wilkerson said that task forces comprised of government, service agencies and community organizations will be formed early in 2006.

Those groups will examine possible solutions to the meth problem as relates to education, employment, housing, parenting, mental health and drug treatment, he said.


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