MultCo lists 3 goals to transform juvenile probation

Multnomah County

More than 75% of youth on probation were youth of color

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Youth of color disproportionately land in Multnomah County’s juvenile justice system, so county leaders identified 3 specific goals to transform juvenile probation, all at the core focused on race, equity and inclusion.

Leaders on the local public safety coordinating council for Multnomah County report that more than 75% of youth on probation were youth of color. At the same time, data also shows how kids of color are less likely to benefit from the diversion program — and the handful of youth who stayed in detention the longest were Black.

They’re trying to develop a system less reliant on threats and punishment and more on exploring kids interests and developing their skills.

“There are disparities at every decision point in the juvenile justice system,” said Deena Corso, the Juvenile Services Division director.

Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said there is plenty of talk of equity but she’s ready to see results, especially for Black youth.

“This is an issue that’s near and dear to my heart,” she said. “I’m heartbroken at what I’m hearing today.”

Mary Geelan, the systems change manager at the Juvenile Services Division, said, “We know it doesn’t have to be this way.”

The 3 specific goals outlined are:

  • Expanding options for diversion, connecting kids with community supports they need
  • Decrease the use of court-ordered conditions, which lead to a lot of chances for kids to violate probation, putting youth at risk for detention for non-compliance versus real public safety threats.
  • Increase incentives. Research shows that positive behavior is more effective with incentives than sanctions.

Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell mentioned some root causes that need to be addressed, namely poverty and unequal opportunities in education.

Multnomah County, particularly, is looking at focused interventions for youth of color and addressing the underlying causes driving them to the doors of juvenile detention.

“So success looks like less involvement in our system but also more support in the community to make sure people can sustain that success,” Geelan said.

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