PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Kayana Bartlett was 5 years old when a teenager began sexually abusing her. That man, Vladys Volynets-vasylchenko, is one of dozens of inmates on Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s list to possibly release early from prison.
The governor is using her constitutional authority to give dozens, maybe hundreds, of inmates convicted as juveniles a chance at early parole.
‘Made me feel disgusted’
Bartlett was blindsided by Brown’s decision and is now dealing with reopened emotional wounds. It’s part of the battle in Oregon between those who think we lock up too many people at tremendous expense and instead want to focus on rehabilitation, especially with juveniles, and those who want to continue tough-on-crime sentencing that led to plummeting crime rates.
Bartlett asked KOIN 6 News not to show her full face. But she felt she had no choice but to go public with her words.
“It’s upsetting and horrible,” she said. “It made me feel just disgusted, honestly. Like it’s something I can’t get away from and that I should just give up on it because it’s just going to keep coming back up.”
Volynets-vasylchenko sexually abused her at a daycare in Washington County. He agreed in a plea bargain to spend 18 years in prison, until 2026.
Court documents show “Defendant is not eligible for any reduction of this sentence for any reason whatsoever…”
But Gov. Brown’s constitutional power to “grant reprieves, commutations, and pardons, after conviction, for all offenses except treason…” overrides the judge’s order.
Volynets-vasylchenko’s name is on a list of 73 inmates who were convicted at a young age. Brown wants to allow them to go before a parole board, to make their case they’ve been rehabilitated and deserve to get out early once they serve at least 15 years.
That means Volynets-vasylchenko could get out 3 years early — unless Bartlett and her mother can convince the parole board to keep him locked up.
Bartlett’s mother, Julie Konidakis, said this decision is “a gut punch. It’s brought up, I’ve cried over this a few times just because my daughter can’t rest.”
‘People transform and change’
Gov. Brown’s office did not respond to a KOIN 6 News request for an interview about this case. But the governor’s office suggested speaking with Aliza Kaplan.
“Well, I’m an expert on clemency, that’s why,” Kaplan said.
She is the director of the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School and represents people on parole and in clemency cases. She wouldn’t comment specifically on Bartlett’s case but is a proponent of the governor’s decision to allow some of the worst juvenile offenders another chance.
“I see people transform and change all the time and believe in the ability for youth, especially to make those changes because I’ve seen it, you know, directly so many times,” Kaplan said.
Asked if it’s worth retraumatizing victims, Kaplan offered a different view.
“I can’t speak from how a victim feels. You’re telling me how one feels and I respect that, but I don’t think that victims are a monolith and I think victims feel all different ways.”
Gov. Brown’s decison comes after the legislature passed a law 2 years ago undoing part of Measure 11’s mandatory sentencing laws and giving serious juvenile offenders a second chance to get out early.
The law was not retroactive. But Brown’s new commutation order is.
The governor hasn’t done any interviews on this topic. She has only released this statement:
“Governor Brown believes that we must put more emphasis on preventing crime and rehabilitating youth than on harsh punishments and lengthy and costly prison sentences. We can no longer rely solely on imprisonment as the only solution. Youth should be held accountable for their actions, but the fact is that adolescent brains are still growing and developing, especially in skills such as reasoning, planning, and self-regulation. Yet, too often our criminal justice responses do not take this into account.”
DAs express frustration
Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton said Vladys Volynets-vasylchenko shouldn’t be on the governor’s list — because he wasn’t a juvenile when he committed the crimes.
“Victims and DAs are wondering why are we finding out about this from the media, not from the governor,” Barton said.
During his trial, the jury said the crimes were committed after Volynets-vasylchenko turned 18. But an appeal overturned the verdict. He then pleaded guilty to crimes in a time frame from when he was 17 to 18.
“The frustration is had the governor’s office reached out to DAs and asked us for more details about the cases that were being considered for commutation, we would have been able to say, ‘This case isn’t a good one for you to consider because in fact, he was 18 when the crime happened.'” Barton told KOIN 6 News.
And it makes Kayana Bartlett mad.
“It pisses me off that she can’t see what’s happened and she doesn’t even have the care to look into it,” she said. “It’s ignorant, I feel.”
There’s another element to all this.
Gov. Brown said she will also look at commuting cases of people who have served at least 50% of their sentence, which means many more inmates convicted as juveniles could be eligible for parole hearings.
Vladys Volynets-vasylchenko is now 33. Court papers say he is not a US citizen. KOIN 6 News is waiting to hear back from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on what will happen to him when he gets out of prison.
Officials with the Oregon Parole Board told KOIN 6 News they will begin the process with inmates who have been in prison the longest. Some have been incarcerated for decades. Those hearing will begin in April.