2000 Finalist
Deschutes County, Oregon
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

In 1997, Oregon spent around $200 million to incarcerate juvenile offenders in facilities across the state. This cost, already high and growing steadily, keeps resources from being dedicated to social services that would help keep youth from committing crimes. Instead of intervention and post-criminal engagement, tax money goes towards removing delinquent youth from their home communities and locking them up far across the state.

The Community Youth Investment Project (CYIP) was started in Deschutes County in 1997 as an effort to keep youth offenders, and the money spent on their incarceration, inside the county. The program is based on the Balanced and Restorative Justice model (BARJ), employing principles of community responsibility, offender accountability, community protection and competency development to restore an offender's productive potential in the community.

Under CYIP, juvenile offenders are not placed in state institutions far from their homes, but instead are given secure, in-community placement. To help fund the construction of detention capability within the county, CYIP helped sponsor successful legislation that gives money to the county for using less then their "share" of beds in the state Oregon Youth Authority (OYA). They used this money towards housing and programs for youth in detention in the county and as well as broader prevention activities.

To help determine the best ways to direct these funds, CYIP has developed a Commission on Children and Families composed of community members. They help to steer social and community service programs for delinquent youth in the county, which include park improvements and work with Habitat for Humanity (with materials funded in part by private donors excited by the program's ideals), and to fund prevention activities for the whole community.

Some of these preventative measures include: a broad spectrum of youth development organizations sponsoring positive after-school and vacation-day activities for children; interventions with kindergarteners showing signs of behavior problems; and home visits to criminals on probation who become parents.

The Commission vets possible interventions for their feasibility and outcomes; they have rejected many popular "fad" treatment ideas like boot camps and the use of ropes courses that have broad public support in other jurisdictions, but have proven no beneficial effect to county officials.

Overall, the program has met its goal of keeping juvenile offenders connected to their home communities; the county's use of beds in state juvenile treatment facilities has fallen by 70%. Judges in the county have benefited greatly from the freedom to sentence offenders to the local facility as an intermediary step between probation and confinement in a distant state facility. The offenders themselves remain in closer contact with their families, and transition much more easily to community service and mainstream life.

In some communities, especially lower-income towns and neighborhoods, intense focus on rehabilitation of criminals is met with skepticism and envy by law-abiding citizens receiving lower levels of service. Deschutes County, however, has a well-functioning social service system and a high level of local interest in juvenile justice reform, as seen in the widespread approval of CYIP. Sitting Governor John Kitzhaber summed up popular sentiment by applauding the program's "efforts to take increased responsibility for your children and families," while reducing the burden on state resources.