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Changes seen at juvenile jail facility

A youth’s bed is pictured, with two books visible. As a result of a recent critical report, the facility relaxed rules to allow more than one book in a cell at a time.

Photo by Neita Cecil
A youth’s bed is pictured, with two books visible. As a result of a recent critical report, the facility relaxed rules to allow more than one book in a cell at a time.



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Every day, each youth incarcerated at the juvenile detention facility at the Northern Oregon Regional Corrections Facility in The Dalles gets a new bundle of clothes and a towel for a daily shower.

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A blue “flag” is a laminated list of rules for youth in the detention facility. The outdated list of rules is on the way out, officials said, to be replaced with rules that reinforce positive behavior.

Report author explains response to input provided by jail

Before a scathing report was issued by a disability rights organization on the juvenile detention facility here, it gave local jail officials a chance to respond to a draft of the report.

But juvenile detention officials said Disability Rights Oregon didn’t incorporate those responses into its final report, with one exception. Jail officials say the report includes exaggerations and errors.

The attorney who wrote the report said a lot of the jail’s comments were incorporated, but she felt others were matters for the jail itself to bring up, rather than be included in the report.

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On a recent late morning, a handful of youth were in a day room at the juvenile detention facility in The Dalles, visiting and working on art projects.

Juvenile Detention Manager Jeff Justesen said the facility has made a conscious effort to have youth out of their cells more often, following a series of visits by Disability Rights Oregon (DRO), and its subsequent scathing report on practices at the facility.

Looking at the kids, who were hanging out, talking and doing art, Justesen speculated of DRO, “If they would’ve walked through here now, they wouldn’t have come back.”

Over the summer, DRO visited the juvenile detention facility at the Northern Oregon Regional Corrections facility three times, interviewing multiple youth and staff and reviewing written policies.

In its report, released Dec. 5, DRO said the facility was punitive in its rules, which forbade looking around, looking out windows or asking what time it was. No clocks were on the walls.

The report said conditions at the facility were “inhumane,” with some youth kept isolated from others for weeks at a time. Jail officials strongly objected to that terminology.

Some youth behaviors, including those caused by mental issues, resulted in punishment and isolation, the report said, which only exacerbated mental issues, leading to more behaviors that drew more isolation.

DRO’s report received wide attention and drew an immediate response from Wasco County, which said it would redirect youth to a different facility pending resolution of the DRO’s findings. It will likely reverse that stance soon, and county officials voiced full support for the facility.

The facility takes kids from 17 counties and the Oregon Youth Authority.

Following the DRO report, some counties said they would “pause” sending kids there, while others said they had full confidence in the facility.

The OYA has stopped sending kids there and will have a person visit the facility today. They will then advise the governor on whether to continue using the facility.

Wasco County did not have any youth at the facility when it said it would stop using it, said Molly Rogers, Wasco County’s juvenile department director. It has not had to place any youth in outside facilities yet.

Juvenile detention levels have a natural ebb and flow and December is typically the lowest month, Rogers said.

“We are working diligently with NORCOR juvenile detention facility to be able to recommend that we start using NORCOR juvenile detention again,” she said.

Detention is actually the pre-trial — or pre-adjudication, in juvenile justice parlance — holding of a youth. Of the four counties that together run NORCOR — Wasco, Hood River, Sherman and Gilliam — just the first two use detention at all, and Wasco and Hood River counties average just two to three kids in detention at a time.

Another side of the juvenile facility is the programming it offers to youth who have been adjudicated. It is one of only two facilities in the state to offer it.

Wasco County does use the programming, which Rogers said was “a key part of our system.”

The county has had up to eight kids at a time in those programs, which help kids work on thinking errors and changing their behaviors, she said.

She said most crime is committed by adults, and juvenile crime in the county has decreased.

Each cell still has a laminated list of rules, called “flags,” that list juvenile rights, and then 35 rules, ranging from not looking around to keeping the room neat and clean at all times.

Rules also include not talking to other youth when at the table in each wing, and forbidding lying down or sleeping during the day.

Rogers said those “flags” will be replaced with new rules that will not focus on a series of “DO NOT” rules but will instead reinforce positive behavior.

Rogers said over the last 20 years, juvenile detention has changed its best practices to a behavioral approach that recognizes what is developmentally appropriate for youth.

“Over the past 20 years, isolation or solitary confinement was used even at the OYA and we now know the reintegrating youth into the social group is more impactful and helpful, and so that’s what we try to do.”

Those changes have been coming over the last 10-15 years, she said.

What is now known is that building social time into the day is more effective in making youth accountable for their behavior, she said.



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