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Jail responds to Disability Rights report

The regional jail board formally responded to the critical report of the juvenile detention facility last week, saying the report’s characterization of the facility as inhumane “is totally irresponsible.”

The letter mirrored much of a response provided Nov. 27 by Juvenile Detention Manager Jeff Justesen, who was allowed to comment on the draft report before it was issued Dec. 5 by Disability Rights Oregon.

The report was widely covered in regional media, causing several of the 17 counties that send youth to the juvenile facility to “pause” sending kids there. Other counties expressed their confidence in the facility.

The response letter, signed Dec. 14, acknowledged areas required improvement, but said part of the report were exaggerated.

It said, “contrary to findings in the report,” kids with unsafe or disruptive behavior who are put on disciplinary status, meaning they can’t be with other kids, are still in regular contact with adults.

The report said the juvenile facility deprived kids of meaningful human contact.

The letter said youth on disciplinary status are checked on regularly throughout the day, to engage them and ensure their safety. “By any estimation, this does not constitute isolation or solitary confinement.”

Youth also get initial and regular screenings for self-harm behavior, are continually supervised under specific criteria, and counselors are available on request, without exception.

It said the facility actively encourages family visitations. The Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility board also heard at its Dec. 14 meeting that visitation days have been increased from four days a week to five.

Families traveling a long way are encouraged to stay longer; and kids who are incarcerated for longer periods also get contact visits, not just behind glass, the letter stated. The facility is one of only two in the state with long term programming for youth.

The letter noted youth had access to yoga, a state of the art greenhouse, church activities, and other programs.

It listed the removal of certain rules – ones that DRO criticized as punitive “control for control’s sake” -- such as “do not look around” and “do not ask what time it is.”

:The facility also now: allows pens and journals in cells; has eliminated the initial 24-hour lockdown and completing a written test before being allowed into the classroom or programming; increased social time and out of room time; stopped suspending visits phone calls and education for disciplinary reasons unless safety concerns exist; and won’t remove books from cells anymore for behavior not related to damaging books.

Upcoming changes include a concise grievance and appeal process to disciplinary actions; focusing on reinforcing positive behavior; and stopping the process of restricting visitation, education and participation in treatment groups as a means of behavior management.

Also planned is improved documentation of all daily activities, policies to allow for increased contact visits, and treatment protocols for all youth.

The report said youth spent three to six hours a day in their cells, a claim the jail disputed but could not prove because it didn’t provide state-required documentation.

The jail did look at video from three separate days and found that youth spent no more than three hours during waking time in their cells.

The letter concluded, “In spite of the negative claims made by DRO, NORCOR trusts that the public will realize its positive factors and continue to support NORCOR in its youth care and programs.”


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