August 29, 2001 11:00 pm

New center will help juvenile offenders learn accountability

Nine months ago hearts sank among local officials and in the ranks of the Oregon Youth Authority when it appeared there would be no funding to operate the OYAs new $4.4 million juvenile detention center at Hilgard. The states projected revenues were down and the governor made no provisions in his budget proposal for funding new detention centers.

In December, it appeared that River Bend would not be part of OYAs goal of transitioning juvenile offenders from correctional facilities back to their communities. It appeared that the $4 million spent on the new center was a waste. And it appeared that the potential for new jobs in our community was lost. But Tuesday, the OYA held a ribbon cutting for River Bend, which wont operate as a boot camp as originally intended but, together with the current Hilgard facility, will accommodate 75 youths in a setting that emphasizes treatment and education, vocational training, transitional services, alcohol and drug education, gang and cultural diversity awareness, as well as parole readiness. The community should be pleased that the efforts of the OYA and local officials in siting the center here did not go for naught.

Darrin Humphreys, River Bends director, acknowledged at Tuesdays ribbon cutting that there was a period when staff members werent sure of their own status. But the perseverance of OYA officials, working in concert with our own heavy-hitters in the Legislature, Speaker Mark Simmons, R-Elgin, and Senate Majority Leader David Nelson, R-Pendleton, didnt let River Bends future disappear in a maze of legislative priorities. Local officials, too, kept the heat on.

By spring it looked like River Bend would be functioning in some capacity, if even as an expanded Hilgard work/study camp. By the time all was said and done, the pieces had come together sufficiently so that OYA could proceed with opening River Bend in increments. Twenty-five youths from the work camp program already are benefitting from River Bends programs the structure, the education, the drug and alcohol counseling, and the vocational training provided by a shop, a kitchen and greenhouses. Another 25 will be added later this year. They will be joined by another 25 next spring, bringing the combined Hilgard Work Camp and River Bend to its capacity of 75 youths.

The center is about teaching responsibility and accountability. River Bend has a structured program. The youths in the program wont be simply serving out their time, waiting for the gate to swing open and send them on their way. The youths are confined. The entire complex is encircled by a 15-foot arched fence, and security cameras help keep an eye on whats going on. Their schedules are set from the time they awake until lights out. They will have the benefit of education and counseling, learning skills in the shop and greenhouse, and earning additional opportunities and responsibilities as they progress through a program that can last nearly two years.

River Bend is an important part of the OYAs effort to hold juvenile offenders accountable for their actions while at the same time helping them reform their ways. And the jobs it will provide are good for our community.