Disability Rights Oregon in mid-November asked reporters if they were interested in a forthcoming investigative report on conditions at the juvenile jail in The Dalles.
Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility operates that juvenile detention facility, and sometimes Umatilla and Morrow counties send youth there for treatment, usually because they are defendants facing serious criminal charges. So I was interested.
The lawyer who conducted the investigation, Sarah Radcliffe, was available for interviews before the report went public Dec. 5. She and I talked over the phone the morning of Nov. 28.
What she said, and how she said it, convinced me this report would be news.
Radcliffe described a jail — sure, the inmates are 12-18, but they still are in jail — that relied on Puritanical rules and attitudes to make their young inmates behave. The kids there could get into trouble for looking out of windows, for keeping their hands above their waists, for not looking forward.
They did not get the amount of education state law requires, they faced hours of isolation a day, and if they broke rules that isolation could last weeks.
Disability Rights released the report to news organizations and others on Nov. 30, but the report remained under embargo. That allowed me time to read all 37 pages and compile information from the report into a news story.
Radcliffe’s report has plenty of stats and numbers, and I selected some. I didn’t want to reproduce her report, after all, but give readers a sense of what was in it, of why she found conditions there shocking.
I also needed to get reactions from someone who would be a voice for NORCOR. That was its director, Bryan Brandenburg. He was not available until Tuesday at noon. I didn’t want to publish a story without his side.
And because we’re a local paper, I wanted to hear from public officials and others that have dealings with that juvenile jail. I didn’t get to speak to every source I wanted to by deadline. Kara Davis, a local defense attorney, was one. She has represented clients who served time in the juvenile jail. I hope to work her words and insight into subsequent reports.
Because this story is not over. I had the first “follow” in Friday’s edition. Another appeared Saturday. If Wasco County gets its way, an independent investigation will look into NORCOR in light of DRO’s findings. If that happens, I’ll follow it.
And if that investigation doesn’t happen, I’ll write about that, too.