COVID-19: Moving Youth to the Community (Update)

So far, the governor’s plans to release incarcerated adults do not include youth in OYA custody.

JUNE 2020 UPDATE

OYA has heard from many stakeholders who share our concern about the potential spread of COVID-19 in Oregon’s secure facilities. Lawmakers and the governor both now have plans to release some adults from Department of Corrections facilities. The goal is to reduce the spread of the virus.

So far, these plans do not include youth in OYA custody. This is partly because living units at OYA are not densely crowded. Also, there have been relatively few staff and youth infections at OYA. 

What We’ve Done

In response to the pandemic, OYA has taken significant steps to protect the health of the youth and staff in its facilities. These have evolved over time, as counties begin to reopen. 

In April, we redistributed youth in our facilities to get to 20 youth or fewer per living unit. The goal was to make it easier for youth and staff to practice physical distancing.

Part of the way we did that was to review additional youth adjudicated as juveniles for possible parole, along with youth already being considered for release. (Note that OYA does not have the authority to parole youth sentenced as adults.) They had to meet certain criteria that showed they were far along in their rehabilitation and were not a safety risk. Furthermore, there had to be a safe placement available that could meet their treatment needs. We will continue to do the same review for other youth on an ongoing basis when feasible.

It’s difficult to give a precise number of youth who were paroled early. However, we did parole more youth in April (50) than any other month this year (the average was 33 for the other months).

We also reviewed a list of youth who were at higher risk of complications if they were to contract the COVID-19 virus. Most of these youth were in the legal custody of the Department of Corrections and could not be paroled early. Therefore, we focused on taking additional steps to keep them safe. Those steps included offering them surgical masks and separate sleeping quarters where possible.

Go here for a fuller account of our work in April to review youth for early release and lower the density on our living units.  

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