During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all concerned about the health of those in congregate care, including youth in OYA secure custody. Some people have wondered whether OYA will consider paroling any additional youth as part of our pandemic response. The answer is yes, on a limited basis, but only when appropriate, and when a safe placement is available that can meet the youth’s treatment needs.
- OYA has taken significant steps to protect the health of the youth and staff in its facilities.
- Living units in OYA facilities are not densely crowded. However, we are redistributing youth to get to 20 youth or fewer per living unit, to maximize opportunities for physical distancing.
- In order to accomplish that, OYA will review about 10-20 youth adjudicated as juveniles for possible parole. These youth are in addition to the youth normally up for parole review at this time. (OYA does not have the authority to parole youth sentenced as adults.)
- We are also reviewing a list of youth who are medically vulnerable to see if any of them can be paroled. We are taking additional steps to keep them safe while they are in custody.
1. What OYA is Doing to Protect Youth and Staff in Its Facilities
OYA has taken a number of steps to protect the youth and staff who live and work in its secure facilities around the state. You can find more information here: https://bit.ly/OYA-COVID-safe.
2. Reducing Density on Living Units
Under normal circumstances, youth in OYA secure custody generally live on units that can accommodate about 25 youth. The exceptions are six specialized 16-bed living units at MacLaren.
We are working to reduce the density on living units to 20 youth or fewer per unit, to allow greater physical distancing. To accomplish this, we are:
- Changing youth’s living assignments within our secure facilities
- Reviewing about 10-20 youth for possible parole to the community
The youth being considered are in addition to youth who would normally be paroled this month. The number of additional youth being considered is relatively small because we have already released youth who were parole-ready and who had an available placement. Further, we have to be very thoughtful about moving youth from one group living setting to another. Setting aside any COVID-related factors, considerations when reviewing a youth for parole include:
- Impact on public safety and on victims
- Readiness for living in the community
- Whether the youth is close to completion of treatment, education or other programming
- Whether treatment or other needed services can be continued in a community setting
- Whether there is a safe placement available – e.g., with responsible adults who can provide supervision.
3. Which Youth Can OYA Consider for Parole?
OYA only has the authority to parole youth who were adjudicated as juveniles. The Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) is responsible for youth sentenced as adults. The vast majority of these youth have mandatory sentences and can only be released early through the executive clemency process.
Youth end up in secure custody at OYA through two main pathways:
- Committed to OYA. A juvenile court judge commits youth to OYA because they are not succeeding at the county level, or they need more services than the county can provide. Currently there are 328 of these youth in our facilities.
- Committed to DOC. Youth are prosecuted as adults and committed to DOC because they have committed very serious crimes. However, because of their younger age, they can live in OYA facilities until age 25. As noted above, OYA does not have the authority to parole youth in our facilities if they are committed to DOC. Currently, there are 175 of these youth in our facilities.
Some youth committed to DOC move from OYA facilities to DOC facilities when they turn 25, if they have time left on their sentence. Currently, no youth committed to DOC are scheduled to move to DOC facilities before September 2020.
4. Medically Vulnerable Youth
We are also reviewing a list of youth who are either immuno-compromised or who have other underlying medical conditions that put them at a higher risk of complications if they were to contract the COVID-19 virus. We are currently evaluating whether some of these youth can be paroled.
We sought guidance from the Oregon Health Authority to determine best practices to ensure the safety of these youth during the pandemic. We learned that we had already implemented the measures they recommended, including, as noted above:
- Suspending facility access for outside visitors, volunteers, and inessential staff
- Screening staff at entry
- Placing youth who have been exposed to someone with COVID symptoms in quarantine and youth with COVID symptoms in medical isolation
In addition, we are taking these precautions:
- All of these youth will be offered a surgical mask in addition to the face coverings being offered all OYA youth in custody.
- Where possible, they will be offered a separate sleeping room.
- If it’s necessary to place them in quarantine, they will be offered a respirator mask instead of a surgical mask.