Ferrioli dismayed by closure of youth authority facilities

The Eastern Oregon Youth Correctional Facility in Burns closed for good at the end of the day Feb. 14. The Eagle/DAVID CARKHUFF

BURNS - A drive to prevent the closure of Oregon Youth Authority correctional facilities in Burns, Prineville and other locations, failed this month.

Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, reported on Feb. 10 that Gov. Ted Kulongoski backed the decision by OYA Director Karen Brazeau to close the Eastern Oregon Youth Correctional Facility in Burns, as well as similar facilities in Prineville, Albany and Warrenton. The closures were prompted by the state's ongoing budget crisis.

The OYA oversees youth offenders who have been adjudicated in juvenile court and found guilty of criminal charges.

At Ferrioli's request, Senate President Peter Courtney had convened a meeting to discuss strategies for preventing the closure of the OYA facilities. However, in an interview last week, Ferrioli said the Oregon Legislature would need to find $4 million just to keep the four facilities operating for the balance of this biennium, $30 million to keep them operational for 2003-2005. Barring a legislative rescue, the money is not there to retain these correctional facilities, he said.

"Those facilities are going to close, and it will start with Burns," Ferrioli warned. His prediction turned out to be right. Friday, Feb. 14, was the last day of operation for the OYA facility in Burns.

"The total impact may not be realized for some time," said Karen Andall, executive assistant to the director of Oregon Youth Authority in Salem. The 50-bed facility in Burns, for example, was empty on Feb. 14, so no youths were displaced directly by the closure. However, as judges mete out sentences to youth offenders in the region, those youths will require transfers from areas of the four closures to other facilities in Oregon. House Bill 5100C mandated the cuts, contingent on failure of Measure 28, the Jan. 28 tax-increase referral, which voters denied.

Program cuts also will affect alternative treatment of youth offenders short of incarceration, such as parole to the home, residential treatment homes or foster care, Andall said.

"For every youth it's going to be different," Andall said of the effects.

Agency parole officers and community partners will devise plans for adjusting to the budget reductions, she said.

Legislation may reverse the cuts, but so far the closures remain intact both this fiscal year, ending June 30, and are reflected in the governor's 2003-2005 budget.

Ferrioli had appealed to Kulongoski to reconsider the closures. He stated in a press release that closure of the Eastern Oregon Youth Correctional Facility in particular would "adversely affect public safety and severely damage the already shaky local economy with the loss of about 50 jobs."

"I have asked the governor's office for a discussion about the effects of the Oregon Youth Authority closure on the Burns community." Ferrioli stated in the release. "I've told the governor that these closures will have the same effect on rural communities as the closure of a company the size of Tektronics would on the city of Portland. This issue must be revisited."

Brazeau, director of the OYA, suggested alternate funding sources and partnerships that could provide solutions. One proposal was to determine if any adult corrections needs could be met by immediately converting OYA facilities personnel and bed space for adult prisoner use. However, the state may lack the budget to make this conversion as well.

Ferrioli said he was wrong about the likelihood of a closure of the Eastern Oregon Youth Correctional Facility. He stated in the press release that former Governor John Kitzhaber, in his effort to secure passage of Measure 28, had threatened to release as many as 4,000 felons from Oregon's prison system.

"I concluded that these threats were scare tactics to get people to support a tax increase, and I shared that opinion freely with the citizens of Harney County and the City of Burns," Ferrioli stated.

While Kulongoski added back all of the cuts scheduled for prisons, Ferrioli said the loss of youth corrections facilities caught him off guard.

"What surprised me was that these add-backs did not include the OYA facilities in Burns. Regrettably, my conclusion about the possibility for closure of the OYA facility in Burns was wrong," Ferrioli said.

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