Disability Rights Oregon today released the results of its investigation into the juvenile detention facility at the four-county Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility in The Dalles known as NORCOR.
NORCOR has been in the news because it is used as a contract jail for adults held by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. But DRO decided to examine its juvenile detention facilities as well.
The report is based on three visits by Sarah Radcliffe, a staff lawyer at DRO, a federally-funded civil rights group, and interviews with facility staff and 23 juveniles. Oregon Public Broadcasting first reported on Radcliffe's investigation.
"We saw kids as young as twelve who were locked in their cells for hours at a time and weren't allowed to read, write, or draw. They were isolated and had no one to talk to. They weren't allowed to look out of windows or to ask what time it was," Radcliffe's report says. "Conditions were harsher and more restrictive than any adult jail we had visited."
Although incarceration is supposed to be reserved for juveniles who have committed serious crimes, DRO found that about a third of NORCOR’s juvenile inmates were behind bars for “technical” violations of the terms of their probation, i.e. offenses that would not be crimes if they weren’t already on probation.
And juveniles in the NORCOR’s geographical boundaries—Hood River, Wasco, Sherman, Gilliam counties and the Warm Springs reservation—get far more punitive sentences than do kids in Portland. (NORCOR houses juveniles from a total of 17 counties as well as juvenile ICE detainees from all over the country.)
“Shockingly, 25 percent of youth detained at NORCOR on technical probation violations stayed in jail for an average of almost 76 days–more than five times the average length of stay in Multnomah County,” the report says.
DRO found that juveniles at NORCOR are often held in solitary confinement, and contrary to Oregon law, the institution does not keep records of how long they are locked down. Outside of the cells, inmates were subject to draconian rules forbidding them the most basic freedoms, such as “looking around,” rather than facing forward, looking out a window or asking for the time.
“At NORCOR, children are generally allowed to possess one book, in addition to the Bible,” the report adds. “No letters, no journals, no drawing, no comic books, no snacks . . . nothing but the concrete walls, one book, and the Bible.”
In response to DRO’s requests for better treatment, NORCOR has begun allowing inmates to have journals and flexible pens but they continue to have extremely limited visitation rights and less access to other amenities than adults held in the same facility.
“These conditions are much more severe than what adults experience in jail,” the report says. “At the adult NORCOR facility, inmates enjoy access to commissary, a television on each unit, almost unlimited out-of-cell time, daily video visitation, phone calls six days per week, and unrestricted social contact with other adults in custody.”
The report also found that juveniles at NORCOR regularly receive inadequate or insufficient education behind bars.
DRO made a series of recommendations for improvement, starting with the most basic: “juvenile detention facilities should be licensed and regulated to
ensure safe conditions and adequate care and treatment.”
NOCOR manager Bryan Brandenburg told OPB he disagreed with some of the investigation’s findings but will be implementing some of the reforms the report recommends.