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Proposed Budget Cut To Release Or Relax Restrictions On Youth Offenders February 3, 2011

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

Hundreds of Oregon juvenile offenders are scheduled to be released into less-restrictive environments and hundreds more now under supervision could be released back into their communities.

That’s the likely result of a major budget cut to the Oregon Youth Authority proposed by Gov. John Kitzhaber on Tuesday as part of his attempt to bridge a $3.5 billion budget gap that could expand with the next economic forecast.

The youth authority is scheduled to lose 425 beds, all of those likely coming from offenders who were put under supervision at the discretion of a judge.

Oregon Youth Authority spokeswoman Ann Snyder said the youth authority’s most serious offenders won’t be released, and those who were sent to the system by a judge — as opposed to a sentence from the Department of Corrections — will be moved into the less-restrictive environments.

“There is no situation where youth with simply be moved out of a facility and put into the community without supervision,” Snyder said.

Snyder said the Legislature could do away with the cuts in its current session, or at least dampen their severity. The agency took a $33 million cut in Kitzhaber’s budget proposal, down almost 13 percent to about $231 million for the biennium that begins on July 1.

Snyder said the agency doesn’t have a clear picture yet of how many of its employees it will lay off, or whether it will need to shutter one of its 11 state facilities.

The youth authority has been down this road before. In 2003, facing serious budget deficits, the state cut the youth authority’s funding and its discretionary beds fell from more than 600 to about 350.

The economy recovered and beds were added back while demand grew.

Last year, cuts loomed again. In September and again in December, the Legislature’s Emergency Board set aside millions to keep the Oregon Youth Authority from having layoffs or reducing beds through April.

The youth authority supervises about 900 offenders of three types. The first two types are sent to them by the Department of Corrections or are considered the most serious youth offenders, and the state orders that each must be housed by the youth authority.

But a third type of offender is considered part of the “discretionary bed allocation,” for which each county in Oregon can send a set number of its juvenile offenders. The discretionary beds are the ones likely to be cut, and some juvenile offenders who would otherwise spend time in a correctional facility will now get a more lenient form of supervision.

Yamhill County Juvenile Department Director Tim Loewen said each county will have to find a way to deal with its individual juvenile justice problem.

“That’s the $24 question,” Loewen said. “Folks have to come up with alternatives. When resources at the state level are diminishing, they’re likely diminishing at the county level. That presents a really big issue.”

Loewen said poorer counties could alleviate overcrowding in their juvenile justice facilities by simply not prosecuting lower-level offenses like property and drug crimes.

“For counties in far eastern Oregon who have more limited resources, when they’re dealing with chronic offenders and have no detention space to keep them, they’re relying on the pooling of discretionary beds,” Loewen said. “This (cut) could pose a very dire issue on how they deal with either violent or repeat offenders.”

Snyder said that the youth authority will conduct a review of each of its youth offenders to determine which ones are most ready for an early release into supervised care. If the Legislature doesn’t help out with emergency dollars, the agency is supposed to have its cuts in place by Oct. 1.

The Oregon Youth Authority was created by a Senate bill in 1995 that sought to separate the juvenile corrections system from the one for child welfare. The voters’ approval of Measure 11 in 1994 also created a fixed, tiered system of sentences for juvenile offenders.

Because Measure 11 brought about mandatory sentences for juveniles, the number Department of Corrections offenders skyrocketed through the 1990s to about 300, and reached almost 400 in April 2009.

According to the youth authority’s forecasting, juvenile crime has dropped significantly from a peak in the mid-1990s, and has remained level since the early 2000s.

The Oregon Youth Authority’s demand for beds stands at 960, and is forecast to remain at about 1,000 for the rest of the decade.



1. Ken - March 7, 2011

Is there anyone spearheading testimony before the state senate on the current Senate Bills 393 and 394?

Any information on the subject would be appreciated. I have a great case for consideration to use in testimony.