July 02, 2001 11:00 pm

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

A camp built at Hilgard for young offenders will not stand empty, but its population wont be what has been expected.

Karen Brazeau, director of the Oregon Youth Authority, said this morning the budget for 2001-03 will allow the camp to open by January with about 25 youngsters. Another 25 are expected to arrive in March, bringing the River Bend camp to its capacity of 50.

But the young people coming to River Bend wont be the minor offenders who have chosen to participate in a boot camp atmosphere, they will be offenders who are nearing the end of their terms and preparing for release into their communities.

We lost the accountability camp, and the truth is we never got it back, Brazeau said.

The youth who will be sent to River Bend will be similar to those who are now housed at Hilgard, Brazeau said.

We wouldnt put kids there that need the most security, Brazeau said. They would still go to Hillcrest or MacLaren or another of our facilities.

But the opening of the camp rests with the community in Union County.

They agreed to give us additional funds to open River Bend, contingent on our ability to work with the community, she said.

Although no specific meetings with community members have been scheduled, Brazeau said she has talked with Union County commissioners about ways to set up meetings.

Were hopeful the community will see that the new building is much more secure than the older building and the whole compound is now fenced. I hope therell be agreement to serve more kids like weve served at Hilgard.

Brazeau said the monthly payroll for River Bend will be about $100,000 once its operating at full capacity, and teachers will be hired.

Were impressed with the education program thats been put together, she said. This could be an excellent kind of transition program that helps kids get job skills. We think with a little bit of work we can have an excellent program.

The bottom line, however, is community acceptance.

If we cant work anything out, we do have the bed space at MacLaren, Brazeau said. Our intent is not to push anything on the community that does not work for them.