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Juvenile jail budget questioned

HR proposal to withdraw facility funds questioned

Wasco County Commissioner Rod Runyon questioned Hood River County’s ability to decline paying for the juvenile detention facility, saying that was a decision for the regional jail board, not the county.

Runyon updated the Wasco County Commission at its March 21 meeting on the budgeting process for the Northern Oregon Regional Corrections (NORCOR) facility.

Runyon said a headline in a March 20 Chronicle article, “HR County may ditch juvenile jail,” was a misnomer. He disputed the idea that Hood River County could decide not to pay for the juvenile facility while still paying for the adult jail.

Hood River County is facing a $2 million budget shortfall and informally asked the regional jail to prepare a budget that did not include funding for the juvenile facility. Hood River County’s representative to the regional jail board said he anticipated a formal request for such a budget scenario soon.

The four-member counties of the regional jail – Wasco, Hood River, Sherman and Gilliam – each pay a subsidy to operate the jail. Hood River County anticipates reducing its subsidy.

Runyon said, “A county may have a problem with funds they want to provide,” but the NORCOR board decides how that money is spent.

The board was unsure of what to do should Hood River County insist on not supporting the juvenile detention facility: would Hood River County still be considered part of the NORCOR system, or is it then independent?

The discussion raised a series of questions that the county commission and the NORCOR board will need to address as they begin their budgeting process.

The most prevalent involved the prioritization of spending.

Runyon said the regional jail continues to add staff to its mental health and medical services components. He considers mental health care necessary, but is unsure of how far to go in that direction. “We want to do the right thing, but we have bills to pay as well,” he said.

The commission also approved an agreement with the Multnomah County Detention Center to house juveniles if needed in an emergency.

Molly Rogers, Wasco County Youth Services director, said the agreement, which she requested, was in response to needing Multnomah’s services following a scathing report on the juvenile facility late last year. In the fallout of that report by Disability Rights Oregon, a Wasco County juvenile needed to be moved into Multnomah’s Detention Center while the report’s findings were under investigation, and no precedent was in place to do so.

Wasco County said it would not use the juvenile facility after the report came out, which said the facility kept kids alone in cells for too long and had punitive rules.

The county later returned youth to the facility, having satisfied itself that the facility was safe for youth.

Rogers stressed that they were not asking for dedicated space at Multnomah, rather the option to use the facility as a backup plan in case of emergency.

A bed at Multnomah costs $353.93 per person per night, Rogers said, not including other costs such as transportation.

NORCOR no longer has any juveniles in the Multnomah County Detention Center and does not plan to house anyone there except in an emergency.

Housing juveniles at the Deschutes County Detention Center is another option, she said, but that facility is significantly smaller with only a set number of open spaces that NORCOR would have to compete for. It was not a feasible solution following the DEA report, Rogers said, but it could reasonably work for one or two kids in the future. A separate agreement with Deschutes County will likely appear before the county commission soon, she said.

The money to house kids at Multnomah County in the future would come out of the youth services budget, Rogers said.


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