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OR's Young Offenders to Bypass Coffee Creek

December 14, 2011

PORTLAND, Ore. - Starting Thursday, juveniles on their way to Oregon Youth Authority facilities after being convicted will no longer have to spend their first week at Coffee Creek, an adult prison in Wilsonville, as part of their intake process.

Some families had complained that the young offenders often were being held in isolation, increasing suicide risks and exacerbating mental health problems.

In light of the complaints, says Shannon Wight, associate director of the Partnership for Safety and Justice, her organization asked for the change.

"It really made sense for kids, if they're going to end up in a youth facility, to also do their intake in a youth facility. Thankfully, when we contacted the Oregon Youth Authority and the Department of Corrections, they were incredibly receptive to this idea, and moved to make the policy change quickly."

Wight says the change will affect about 100 young Oregonians every year. Her group, she says, also is working to change sentencing policies in Oregon so that fewer youths are tried as adults.

Liz Ryan, president and chief executive officer of the Campaign for Youth Justice, says holding youths in adult prisons is only part of a national problem. She says about 250,000 youths every year are prosecuted as adults.

"What we've come to find out is that putting young people in adult criminal court actually increases the likelihood that those young people will re-offend more quickly, and at higher rates. We're urging the state of Oregon, and a number of other states, to re-examine their policies in light of this new research."

Ryan praises Oregon for increasingly using alternatives to locking youths up. However, she says, Oregon still has what she calls "huge racial and ethnic disparities" in prosecuting juveniles.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR