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The Observer Paper 12/22/14

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By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

The frustration spilled over as Union County Juvenile Director Jim Brougham faced the reality of losses in programs and treatment for teenagers.

"I've worked with children and families for 25 years. This is by far the worst situation we've been in as long as I've been working," he said.

Brougham and other county juvenile directors expect to see an influx of youth released early as 250 beds in the Oregon Youth Authority's corrections program are being lost since the failure of Measure 28. At the same time, funds are being severely cut to county juvenile departments.

How will Union County serve these young offenders and protect the community?

"I can only speculate," Brougham said. "We would have less resources available to us, plus we won't have the diversion dollars to keep kids in the county.

"If all these services are dwindling — alcohol-drug, sex offender, petty crimes — what are we going to do? How are we going to serve them? Are we going to warehouse them locally until they go back to the institution?

"By then, they'll have victimized people."

Brougham said that over the years, $48 million has been invested to construct a system of juvenile crime prevention.

"Now we'll have to dismantle it," he said. "We've been collecting data, doing research, and in my opinion, it's working here because we have people across the board who've worked together to make it what it is today."

The trickle-down effect is also affecting the probation officers, Brougham said.

"They already have very high case loads," he said. "If we have to maintain youth in the community longer, what will happen is the other youth will be taking a back seat to those."

Brougham said that he's seen the positive impact of county programs on troubled teenagers.

"We have some youth who respond. They turn the corner; they do OK," he said.

Those are the young people that Brougham believes will suffer the most.

At the same time that the county struggles with ways to prevent juvenile crime and treat offenders, the closure of Oregon Youth Authority centers in Burns and Prineville are affecting 20 Union County employees at River Bend, said Brad Mulvihill, eastern regional director of the OYA. Mulvihill said 120 jobs were lost in Burns and Prineville.

Many Union County people answered the call for new employees when River Bend was being built. They took classes away from home and entered what they thought would be lifetime careers. There's no indication whether the jobs will ever be restored.

When it was first planned, River Bend was to be a new type of juvenile correction center, offering offenders a chance to spend their time in a highly disciplined program, offering education and substance abuse treatment. That plan was scrapped because of financial cuts before the new center was finished, and River Bend became an extension of the Hilgard Work-Study Center that houses youth as they near the end of their sentences.

Hilgard houses 45 teenagers, but some of those will be released to make room for other offenders.

"We're working with all juvenile directors in targeting youth for release who we believe have the best risk of going out into the community," Mulvihill said.

"That's an assortment of lots of different kids, because it depends upon the programs they're in and where they are in that treatment. We don't look at just the crime."

Layoffs at the Oregon Youth Authority may not be finished, and Mulvihill, who spent weeks and months organizing the innovative River Bend programs, may become one more victim of the state's financial crisis.


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