The automotive program at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility provides key skills to youth, but it has faced one major barrier: the opportunity to work on actual automobiles.
Bringing a vehicle into a close-custody facility raises liability issues, so youth in the program have been rather restricted in their hands-on learning.
A recently formed partnership between Oregon Youth Authority and Oregon State Police has allowed OSP to bring to MacLaren patrol vehicles that need to be decommissioned, tuned up, and prepared for auction.
“It frees up time for our techs to build (commission) new cars,” Brian Gibson, fleet manager for OSP, said, noting that OSP technicians commission about 200 vehicles a year. “It also teaches OYA youth a skill, so it’s kind of a win-win.”
The two agencies signed an interagency agreement to provide a unique opportunity for OYA youth.
The agreement states that OSP will bring 20 cars a year, one at a time, to MacLaren’s auto shop, located in the vocational education-centered Moody Building. Selected youth have been able to learn from OSP technicians how to use specialized tools to decommission the outgoing police vehicles — vehicles that have reached 140,000 miles.
“The Oregon State Police is grateful for the opportunity to partner with the Oregon Youth Authority on this worthy project,” OSP Superintendent Travis Hampton said. “At the end of the day, kids are kids and OSP appreciates the positive interaction. I think OSP employees enjoy the program as much as the kids, it has been a rewarding and impactful experience for us all.”
The decommissioning process takes about six to eight hours, with technicians removing the sirens, antenna, cage, front electronics console (that includes equipment like the radio and front-facing camera), and more. OSP will reuse some of the removed items, or give them to county sheriffs or city police departments around Oregon.
Following the decommissioning process, the youth then make sure the vehicles are ready to be sold to the public by doing detailed inspections, diagnosing and fixing any issues they find.
“It’s a challenge for them to figure out what the (cars) have been through,” instructor Harold “Butch” Stetson said. “It’s one thing to learn how it runs, and another to get in depth like that.”
Youth even requested to do oil changes on the decommissioned Dodge Chargers, so OSP will provide oil for that procedure on some of the vehicles, Stetson said.
“We’re going to give them a better car to sell,” Stetson said. “These cars run well and will give someone good service in everyday use.”
So far, the youth have enjoyed the program.
“I didn’t know much about cars before this program,” A.E. said. “It’s important because it gives us something to do rather than just sitting on unit all day, and it’s benefiting ourselves for when we get out.”
He noted that teamwork between the involved youth comes naturally.
“We work great together as a team,” A.E. said. “A lot of us are on the same unit so we’re together a lot.”
While A.E. admitted he didn’t know much in terms of automotive skills beforehand, A.B., whose grandfather is a mechanic, had some background knowledge. Yet, after starting work on his third decommissioned car, he said he’s still learning a lot.
“I didn’t know (the patrol cars) would have all this stuff,” he said. “It’s crazy how much the car weighs.”
He’s also thrilled at the opportunity to hone his professional skills for when he leaves OYA.
“I love this program because it lets me do what I like to do instead of sit around all day,” he said.
Youth are selected for the decommissioning project if they’ve already had some automotive classwork and industrial safety training, have exhibited good behavior over a long period of time, and haven’t had affiliation with any gangs. While they’re usually high school graduates, Stetson occasionally brings in his high school class to check out the vehicles, especially during the diagnostics stage.
“The hope is that, as time goes on, the guys that are getting training can go to work, maybe even to OSP,” Ken Perine, vocational instructor, said. “It’s just another way for them not only to get involved in the process, but to open up the possibilities for jobs.”
Gibson added, “Bottom line is if they get the skills now, then when they get out in society they can apply them.”