CRIME VICTIMS UNITED
Coalition Formed To Defend Oregon Youth Authority Budget
The Oregon Youth Authority was established through Senate Bill 1 in 1995 and charged with the mission of protecting public safety, holding offenders accountable, and providing opportunities for reformation.
By most accounts, the OYA has done a creditable job of discharging this responsibility. In part through OYA efforts, the number of arrests of juveniles for major person and property crimes dropped from nearly 4500 in 1995 to less than 3000 in 1999 (source: Office of Economic Assessment OYA Population Forecast).
In December of 2000, Governor Kitzhaber published his proposed budget for the 2001-2003 biennium. The proposal called for a 13.5 percent increase in general fund spending over the biennium, for a total spending of $11.47 billion. Included in this discretionary spending is $261 million for the Oregon Youth Authority. This funding level represents a reduction in service level compared to 1999-2001 in the amount of approximately $25 million. According to a 12/19/2001 article in The Oregonian, this reduction translates into:
The elimination of $3.4 million for Multnomah County gang prevention
The closure of three current youth accountability camps (two operating, one planned)
Reduced funding for parole and probation, foster and residential care, county diversion programs
And other reduced services
People involved in juvenile justice became concerned that these cuts in OYA service levels would derail successful OYA efforts to deal with juvenile crime. Treatment providers, district attorneys, labor organizations, criminal defense attorneys and Crime Victims United formed the OYA Coalition to try to restore OYA service levels.
On 4/12/2001, the OYA Coalition held a press conference, described in the 4/13/2001 Salem Statesman Journal:
An unusual coalition of prosecutors and defense lawyers, Crime Victims United and the Juvenile Rights Project, came together Thursday for a common goal. They want the Legislature to restore funding that might be cut in the 2001-03 budget for the Oregon Youth Authority, which houses or supervises the state's most serious young offenders.
The following week, the Oregon Legislature's Ways and Means Committee on Public Safety held hearings, at which OYA Coalition members testified. In case you would like to express your opinion, here is contact information for the committee members:
Senator Randy Miller, 900 Court Street NE, S-206, Salem, OR
Senator Lenn Hannon, 900 Court Street NE, S-303, Salem, OR 97301
Senator Joan Dukes, 900 Court Street NE, S-318, Salem, OR 97301
Representative Dan Doyle, 900 Court St. NE H-285, Salem OR 97301
Representative Gary Hansen, 900 Court St. NE H-392, Salem OR 97301
Representative Tim Knopp, 900 Court St. NE H-288, Salem OR 97301
Representative Randy Leonard, 900 Court St. NE H-385, Salem OR 97301
On April 13, 2001, the following editorial appeared
in The Oregonian. It was written by CVU President Steve Doell, who served on
the task force that led to the establishment of the Oregon Youth Authority and
now serves on the OYA's executive director's advisory board.
Juvenile delinquents are not the most sympathetic population group fighting for general fund money.
They have no constituency, and they are not a voting bloc. But their needs, and society's, must be addressed.
Whether the experimental early intervention program proposed by Gov. John Kitzhaber will address crime prevention is speculative and up for debate. However, it is not even arguable that the massive cuts -- $25 million --that Kitzhaber has proposed in the Oregon Youth Authority budget, along with other additional public safety cuts, will increase crime in Oregon.
In 1995 during the development of Senate Bill 1, which created the Oregon Youth Authority to oversee corrections programs for minors, Kitzhaber said, "Our communities can not ignore their at-risk populations, turning a blind eye to minor infractions until something terrible happens."
Kitzhaber also said, "Studies have demonstrated that early intervention and certain sanctions are the key to preventing young people from choosing a life of crime."
Ironically, six years later Kitzhaber is suggesting that the system's ability to intervene with high-risk and chronic offenders be dramatically cut.
It is particularly ironic that in 1985, under the leadership of Kitzhaber when he was Senate president, the Legislature "cut and capped" the juvenile system, reducing close-custody beds and disinvesting in the juvenile system.
It is no coincidence that juvenile crime increased nearly 69 percent between 1987 and 1996. It is also no coincidence that dropped 26 percent in the years after SB 1 went into effect.
But apparently nothing much was learned from the colossal mistake of 1985, because the governor is suggesting we do it again.
When crime numbers go up, each number is another victim, a real person, and when they go down, it's one less victim, a real person.
Because the poor and minorities are disproportionately affected by crime, both as offenders and victims, any cuts that diminish funds for intervention in delinquency will have more of an impact on those who have the least ability to respond.
For example a moderate-size county, such as Jackson County, would see its allowable bed space drop from 41 to 29 -- a 30 percent reduction. And Jackson County already exceeds its current allotment by 10 percent. Funding for Youth Care Centers, an alternative to incarceration, would be cut by 7 percent. Currently, the centers are full and have waiting lists. Sex offenders treatment funds would be cut by $40,000, diversion funds by $43,000 and victims' funds by $46,000.
And this is just one county.
Public safety -- from state police to district attorneys to public defenders to judges to prisons -- comprises only 14 percent of the entire state budget. Education takes nearly 58 percent.
Why the governor would cut or consider reducing an already undersized public safety budget is incomprehensible.
Members of Crime Victims United and most practitioners in juvenile justice find the proposed cuts to the juvenile system totally unacceptable and a slap in the face to all those who have worked so hard to put this broken system back together again.
Now it is up to the Legislature, specifically the Republican leaders who head the Ways and Means Committee, to restore the funding that has been stripped from the Oregon Youth Authority budget. They have a chance to do so when hearing start Monday on the budget.
Legislators who would vote for such cuts will send a clear message to Oregonians on where they stand on juvenile crime, public safety and the future of our next generation of parents.
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