Tom DeWolf likes to kid around, as anybody who has attended a Deschutes County Commission meeting can attest. So it should have been obvious fairly quickly to most of the 150 folks gathered at Aspen Hall on a recent weekday morning that he was pulling their leg, big-time.
“Nothing is worth this kind of scrutiny … unfair, unwanted abuse,” a stern-faced DeWolf said in his welcome to the crowd. “On Sunday morning, I woke up to a living hell.”
At first, it would seem he meant the blaring front-page Bulletin headline and four full pages inside that dove into and, one might say, ripped into the Community Youth Investment Program – just two days before the long-scheduled forum on the very same program, hardly a coincidence.
The stories by Bulletin reporter James Sinks (main piece is online at http://www.bendbulletin.com/news/story.cfm?story_no=6055) claimed that the innovative program, aimed at reining in the high cost of juvenile corrections, was costing local taxpayers more than $500,000 a year that they wouldn’t have to fork up, should local youths in trouble be sent to state facilities. What’s more, the story claimed, about half of the 77 juveniles under CYIP supervision were arrested on new offenses, at least a dozen fled the program, and the reoffense rate is 22 percent higher than juveniles sent to state facilities, the newspaper claimed.
DeWolf made clear pretty soon that he wasn’t talking about the newspaper article – in fact, he wasn’t in Bend, or even in Oregon, on Sunday. His “living hell” was that he “was stuck in Branson, Missouri,” during the January shutdown of all the shows – and then, he was subjected to the most invasive airport security he’s ever had. “They checked my shoes for nuclear weapons,” he joked. (DeWolf had been in Missouri for a National Association of Counties conference on – of all things – justice issues.)
With Sinks and Bulletin Editor in Chief John Costa sitting in the front row, DeWolf was the first, but not the only official to thank the pair and promise to look hard at the paper’s findings, which he called “the good, the bad and the ugly” about the much-touted program. (He then related a favorite “Far Side” cartoon, where one deer says to another, adorned with a bull’s eye: “Bummer of a birthmark, Hal.”
Commissioner promises concerns will be taken `very seriously’
Indeed, while Community Youth Investment Program isn’t targeted with a budget-balancing act in the upcoming Oregon Legislature’s special session, state Rep. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, said during a break that he knows the stories will provide ammunition for those who have been critical of the program. Still, he said, stopping it now wouldn’t save the state any money, so it’s likely to get some time to straighten up its act and deal with its shortcomings.
“We’re taking very seriously the questions raised in The Bulletin articles,” DeWolf said, noting that a University of Oregon evaluation team – one of two audits of the program now under way – will “make sure the questions are addressed,” as will a separate, legislatively ordered review by the secretary of state’s office.
“I’m proud of the changes we’ve taken,” DeWolf said. “I’m proud we’re willing to take the risk. You have questions? You have doubts? Join the club. I do too.”
Earlier, colleague Dennis Luke said the finding that local dollars are subsidizing the program shouldn’t forestall waiting until the audits are done.
“This is a community function, and if the community chooses to put additional money into helping our young people make it, that’s a community decision – it isn’t costing the state any more,” Luke said after a commission work session.
“This is not to say there are not problems there. There may be, and if there are, we’ll take a hard look at those,” the commissioner added. “But I personally am going to wait to see what the audits that we’re paying for have to say, before I make a rush to judgment.”
Scott Johnson, director of the county’s Commission on Children and Families, talked of the key milestones that led to creation of the program, including the 1997 passage of House Bill 3737, which established CYIP as a 6-year pilot program, two years after voters approved a $7.2 million bond to replace the cramped, eight-bed juvenile detention center with a 60-bed facility. He also listed the key themes the community stressed in creating it – accountability to the victims and community and public safety, among others.
Deschutes County’s presiding Circuit Judge Stephen Tiktin stood firm in support for a program he said “is really a natural and logical step in the evolution of the justice system in Deschutes County.”
Judge Tiktin: `We must be grateful and welcome scrutiny’
Tiktin, too, said the newspaper “very appropriately” raised questions that the judges and others in the program will work on.
“I am confident that the program is fundamentally sound in its concept and operation,” the judge said. “But we must continually monitor and improve” it as well. “Self-assessment is difficult,” Tiktin noted, but “we must be grateful and welcome scrutiny.”
Dennis Maloney, former director of the county’s Department of Juvenile and Community Justice,” now spends most of his time on “special assignment” for the federal Justice Department, working with states across the country on the “balanced and restorative justice” concepts born in Bend.
Maloney told the audience one overarching them of the effort to better help the community’s troubled youth is that “you don’t solve a problem by giving it away.” And while The Bulletin found cases that showed some teens in the program had gone astray, a few violently, Maloney said, “From the beginning, we never set out to work with anyone who was dangerous and violent. We set out to work with those we felt could be held accountable to the community.”
Theme No. 2, he said: “Redemption is not granted, it’s earned,” through community service, the teens earning trust. One of the things Maloney is proudest of is the three Habitat for Humanity homes built by CYIP youth, “for families who never would have had a home. Not excusing wrongdoers, but earning your way back into the good graces of the community.”
“If we don’t bring the same energy to prevention and intervention that we do to incarceration, we will never get ahead of the curve,” Maloney said, talking of his time spent on two prison siting panels.
Maloney `astounded’ by community’s willingness to `step up’ and help
“There’s clearly a place for locking up people,” he said, but “we’re going to get ahead of crime by making substantial investments in education and prevention.” In fact, Maloney said, states that didn’t undergo a massive prison expansion, as Oregon has, found their crime rates had dropped even more.
Maloney said a positive lesson learned by the many agencies that came together for CYIP is that “if the community is asked to step up, it will. I’ve been nothing short of astounded how the community has stepped up” to help the program, from Brooks Resources and Eagle Crest to the Boys and Girls Club.
While there’s been a “relatively small number of cases” in which youth abused the system, among the 16,000 hours of community service, Maloney also said, “We must redouble our effort to carry out risk management of repeat offenders in the community.”
As for the newspaper’s findings, he said, “We are going to use that article as a platform for improvement.” But he warned, “Others will choose to use it as a weapon.”
Returning home from a prison siting committee meeting, Maloney said he thought about the forecasts of prison populations, and realized the far reaches involve the classmates of his daughter, in kindergarten. So he called state university officials, to see if they were preparing with similar long-range vision – and was told the system is having enough trouble dealing with today’s enrollment, and the next few years.
“Whatever warts we have with this program, and whatever improvements we need to make, what does it say about our society that we have a prison on the drawing board for our kindergarteners, when we don’t have a place for them in a higher education facility?” Maloney wondered aloud. He then promised a “significant mid-course correction” in the Youth Investment Program, to address any concerns.
Victims’ advocate: `Y’all should be extremely proud’
The guest speaker was Anne Seymour, a principal in Justice Solutions of Washington, D.C., who has been to Deschutes County numerous times in recent years to make sure the restorative justice program does right by victims. Sept. 11 has shown, she said, that “victims’ trauma, victims’ assistance can’t be an afterthought.”
During her first visit, in 1994, Seymour said she found “not much going on,” in terms of aiding victims – but she also “found people willing to change.” In eight visits over the past four years, she’s helped to remind those in the system that “victims want to be acknowledged as a victim of crime.”
Little yet important things have helped, such as an information packet given to every victim of juvenile crime, and a version of the Victim’s Impact Act statement that even little children can understand. Thrae’s also a “victims’ satisfaction survey,” she said, to “find out how they were treated by us – acknowledged and treated with respect.”
“Restitution here is a priority, unlike other places – and here, five years ago,” Seymour said.
Next up, she said: A “goal statement” for criminal justice, “specific to victims’ rights and needs and issues – not an afterthought or a sidebar.” She also wants to “get a victim advisory council going, and a community accountability board, with a victim on it, to look at cases and see if youthful offenders are ready for community service.”
Seymour stressed the “three Ps: People, partnerships and priorities,” and said Deschutes County, despite the scrutiny, is doing very well in its progress on issues of victims’ rights: “Y’all should be extremely proud,” she said. “Victims’ issues have become a priority. Victims should not be discriminated against, simply by the age of the offender.”
Knopp: `Jury is still out’ on program’s value, results
Two of the earliest critics of the Deschutes County CYIP program, Bob and De Dee Kouns, are founders of Crime Victims United of Oregon – and they were on hand for the standing-room-only forum, along with the group’s president, Steve Doell, who talked outside the room at length with Knopp and Sheriff Les Stiles.
“I’ve been waiting to see the results of the program,” Knopp said during a break. “I believe the jury is still out on whether it is protecting Deeschutes County citizens and holding people accountable” any more than the state system does.
Toward the end of the morning, two youths who have been in CYIP, Michael, 17, and Scott, 16, spoke to the audience, along with Tom Del Nero, the program’s educational coordinator.
Michael told of committing a burglary: “I broke into a house, stole all the furniture. After that, I got caught, went to community service, probation for five years, got into more trouble.” Eventually, he even helped build the new detention center – but unfortunately, returned to be one of its tenants. The last time he got into trouble, he was sent to St. Mary’s, a “huge residential treatment center in Portland.”
His last time in the CYIP, Michael said he “learned a lot about victims. It started sinking in, gradually. It took years, just to get it into my head.”
Through community service, like the Habitat for Humanity construction, “I got to see people sming for me working for `em,” he said. Cleaning up elderly folks’ yards, he expected they would “see a bunch of criminals working in the yard, and have a gun in the house, waiting for us to mess up.” But as it turned out, “It was pretty cool, seeing their faces light up.”
Youth helped by CYIP: `I don’t ever want to go back to jail’
As for St. Mary’s – which he said, in frank terms, “sucks” – it houses 8,000 or more young wrongdoers, and “only 10 percent make it,” Michael said.
And now, he’s set to graduate from Redmond High in June, then join the Marines.
“I’m doing pretty good for myself,” Michael said.
Scott, a bit embarrassed to speak, said one aspect of the program is to “try to put ourselves in the position of people we hurt,” through role-playing. “Victim empathy was … I just knew I had to do it. The Youth Investment Program made me look at it in a totally different way.”
DA Mike Dugan, in the audience, asked Michael, “I want to know if you learned that you’re not going to go back and commit another crime.”
“I don’t ever want to go back to jail, really,” he said. “There’s a chance that I might, but I’m going to” try not to. Added Scott: “It’s not worth it.”
CYIP official tells reporter, editor: `We will address your concerns
Kelley Jacobs, operations manager for the Department of Juvenile Community Justice, only used a couple slides from her prepared show, covering community and victim accountability.
“I can’t tell you how extremely difficult it was to read that article,” she told Costa and Sinks. Nevertheless, she said, “We heard your concerns. We will address your concerns. You have our pledge to do that.”
“The kids in the program earn the right to leave the facility to perform work service,” Jacobs said. “They are supervised, but they aren’t in shackles.” Due to the concerns raised in the article about unauthorized departure, Jacobs said one question to be focused on his “how do we maintain public safety, improve the system we have.”
Frank Pennock, president of the Deschutes River Woods Homeowners Association, explained how one project, with the youth helping clean up pine needles off seniors’ property, changed some minds and eased some fears.
“Pretty soon, they came out with a plate of cookies,” he said. “These kids were not at all what they expected them to be.”
Changing other minds might not be as easy, but those who are involved in and believe in the Community Youth Investment Program hope they’re given a chance to do things better, before the Legislature decides, probably next year, whether the pilot program is worth continuing beyond its so-called “sunset” date in 2005.