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Juvenile jail accused of inhumane methods

NORCOR director contends treatment of youth not inhumane
Phil Wright

East Oregonian

Published on December 5, 2017 8:56PM

Last changed on December 8, 2017 3:51PM

Isolation is a common experience for youth at the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility, The Dalles, according to a new report from Disability Rights Oregon. NORCOR’s director maintains youth there do not suffer inhumane treatment.

Photo contributed by Disability Rights Oregon

Isolation is a common experience for youth at the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility, The Dalles, according to a new report from Disability Rights Oregon. NORCOR’s director maintains youth there do not suffer inhumane treatment.

The Northern Oregon Regional Corrections Facilities in The Dalles houses juvenile detainees for all of northeastern Oregon.

Photo contributed by The Dalles Chronicle

The Northern Oregon Regional Corrections Facilities in The Dalles houses juvenile detainees for all of northeastern Oregon.

The new report from Disability Rights Oregon contends youth on disciplinary status at the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility, The Dalles, were “effectively denied all meaningful human contact,” including phone calls and family visits. The faculty now allows calls and visits in the wake of the report.

Photo contributed by Disability Rights Oregon

The new report from Disability Rights Oregon contends youth on disciplinary status at the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility, The Dalles, were “effectively denied all meaningful human contact,” including phone calls and family visits. The faculty now allows calls and visits in the wake of the report.

The juvenile jail at the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility, The Dalles, allows youth to have one book in addition to the Bible, according to a report from Disability Rights Oregon. If they are in trouble, they can only have the Bible.

Photo contributed by Disability Rights Oregon

The juvenile jail at the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility, The Dalles, allows youth to have one book in addition to the Bible, according to a report from Disability Rights Oregon. If they are in trouble, they can only have the Bible.


Disability Rights Oregon in a new report accused the juvenile jail in The Dalles of skirting Oregon law and using inhumane means to punish youth.

The director of the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility admitted the juvenile detention center can improve, but said in no way is the treatment there inhumane.

Disability Rights is the federally designated Protection and Advocacy System for Oregonians with disabilities, which grants the organization the authority to inspect jails and other facilities that care for or confine people with disabilities. Disability Rights attorney Sarah Radcliffe visited the NORCOR juvenile jail on three occasions between June and September and interviewed 23 youth there, some who told her about long stays in isolation with little or no meaningful human contact, including youth who were suicidal.

“I was just really shocked by the conditions,” she said. “Kids are getting disciplined for normal behavior, and some for mental health-related behavior.”

Offenders as young as 12 faced discipline for talking in line or not looking forward, according to the report, and most youth reported spending three to six hours per day locked in their cells. Youth could spend weeks “on disciplinary status,” according to Radcliffe, in which they cannot participate in any group activities, have to eat alone, receive solitary education in their housing unit and cannot have phone calls or visits from family.

Radcliffe called NORCOR’s disciplinary process “regressive and aggressive.”

NORCOR also does not document how long youth remain in isolation, a violation of Oregon law.

Dr. Ajit Jetmalani is the director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Oregon Health and Science University and a member of the statewide juvenile justice mental health task force. He said in the report the NORCOR juvenile detention facility “appears to be unaware of the neuroscience of adolescent development” that shows “the critical importance of attachment and sustained positive relationships” for juveniles.

“The key to recovery for these kids is not enforcing strict compliance with rules, but rather in forming healthy relationships that help to foster an intrinsic desire to engage positively with the world,” the report said.

NORCOR Director Bryan Brandenburg said that is what NORCOR is trying to achieve, and he disputed much of Radcliffe’s report.

“The kids are not treated inhumanely,” he said, “they are treated appropriately.”

The facility provides programs such as self-esteem classes and drug treatment. NORCOR even offers yoga.

“We really are about teaching kids better behavior,” he said. “We certainly don’t punish, as she said in her report, nor do we treat them inhumanely.”

Staff do place youth who are disruptive or who break the rules in disciplinary segregation, he said, which means isolation in their cell. But staff and mental health workers regularly check on youth in segregation, he said, “so they are not deprived of human contact.”

But he admitted NORCOR had “silly” rules for enforcing behavior and it was time to replace or change them, including prohibitions against looking around or looking out of windows during class. In the wake of Radcliffe’s report, he said, those rules are gone. And NORCOR is installing clocks in easy-to-see places so youth don’t have to ask staff for the time of day.

NORCOR also will do a better job of documenting how long youth are in isolation, Brandenburg said, and he and Jeff Justesen, NORCOR’s detention manager, are crafting grievance and appeals processes for youth who get into trouble. Oregon law requires juvenile jails to offer a hearing prior to imposing “roomlock” in excess of 12 hours or denial of any privilege in excess of one day. Inmates in Oregon’s state prisons can file complaints against staff and file appeals for discipline, Brandenburg said, and youth in NORCOR should have those same rights.

And youth in isolation now can have journals and safety flex pens in cells, as well as phone calls and visits.

Brandenburg was at a business trip and not in his office Tuesday, so he said his numbers were from memory, but two years ago NORCOR averaged 19 youth offenders a month and that has dropped to 15 a month. There were a total of 276 youths booked into the jail between January and October and six are in the facility now. NORCOR does keep youth longer than other sites, he said, but that is due to the programs it offers.

“We are one of two detention centers in Oregon that have those programs, so they are sent to NORCOR to complete those programs — 30-day and 90-day programs,” he said.

Umatilla and Morrow counties are among 17 Oregon counties that send detainees to the juvenile facility, along with the Warm Springs Indian Reservation and counties in southeastern Washington. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement sends youth there from throughout the country.

Dale Primmer is the director of Umatilla County Community Justice, which oversees services for juvenile offenders. He said the county rents two beds as needed per day from the facility and the county has no one there now.

Those beds are for often used for longer stays, he explained, such as youth undergoing treatment in one of the facility’s programs or a defendant facing serious Measure 11 crimes.

Primmer said he glanced through the Disability Rights report and could not comment on whether it was factual or not. County officers transport youth at NORCOR to court hearings, doctors and other appointments, but Primmer said he has not heard if any inmates complained about their treatment.

He also said if NORCOR’s treatment of youth is inhumane, he would confer with county commissioners and law enforcement partners to determine options for incarcerating or monitoring youth.

County Juvenile Department Director Tom Meier didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment, but Morrow County District Attorney Justin Nelson said youth defendants or their attorneys have not told him or his deputy about concerns at NORCOR. He added that does not mean the report is inaccurate.

The Pew Charitable Trust reported juvenile confinement dropped by half nationwide, but Oregon is moving the opposite direction. According to Radcliffe, only Wyoming incarcerates a higher percentage of its youth than Oregon.

Disability Rights Oregon made several recommendations, including guarantees from the Oregon’s Department of Education that youth in NORCOR receive an appropriate education to ending solitary confinement. Radcliffe’s No. 1 recommendation is the creation of “comprehensive rules governing treatment and conditions at juvenile detention facilities.”

Primmer said the lack of a consistent method of evaluating youth detention sites for best practices was a significant takeaway.

Brandenburg maintained Radcliffe “exaggerated for impact to dramatize a situation that is not as dire as she wants to portray it,” but her report also shows NORCOR can do better.

“We are in the service business,” he said, “so we will look at those recommendations we see as legitimate and valid and make an effort to address them.”

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Contact Phil Wright at pwright@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0833.

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This story was updated to correctly attribute a quote to the Disability Rights Oregon report, not one of its authors.







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