Monday, February 17, 2020
Feb. 17, 2020

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Commissioners want panel to run youth jail in The Dalles


THE DALLES, Ore. — The Wasco County Board of Commissioners is demanding action after a report claims the juvenile jail in The Dalles mistreats youth.

The East Oregonian reports commissioners Rod Runyon, Scott Hege and Steve Kramer each signed a letter Wednesday urging the board of directors for the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility to convene an emergency meeting to hand over control of the juvenile detention facility to an oversight committee.

Sarah Radcliffe, attorney for Disability Rights Oregon, created a report based on visits to the juvenile jail and interviews with 23 youth. She found the facility often shut youth in cells for hours at a time, and jail staff disciplined youth as young as 12 for talking while in line or looking anywhere but straight ahead.

Juvenile inmates on “disciplinary status” were subjected to weeks of isolation, according to the report, cut off from phone calls and visits. They ate alone and could not participate in education with their peers.

Getting off disciplinary status depended on earning passing marks on scorecards that staff filled out each shift. Radcliffe found there was no set number for how many shifts youth must pass.

Wasco County further demanded an independent investigation to dig into the report’s findings and recommendations, and commissioners told NORCOR the county will “immediately redirect any youth in NORCOR custody to a different facility” pending resolution of the report.

NORCOR director Byran Brandenburg has said juveniles at the jail do not suffer inhumane treatment, and he criticized the report for inaccuracies and exaggerations. However, Brandenburg said NORCOR has changed several practices in the wake of the report that went public Tuesday morning, including allowing students to have pens and journals in their cells and allowing students on disciplinary status to have calls and visitors.

He also said the facility did away with “silly rules” that prohibited youth from looking around or asking what time it was.

The counties of Wasco, Hood River, Sherman, and Gilliam teamed up to create NORCOR in The Dalles. The jail holds 100 to 130 adults and about two dozen youth. NORCOR holds contracts with 17 counties and the Warm Springs Reservation for youth detention, along with counties in Washington and federal immigration detainees.