Next year, Clatsop County will send youth in custody to Yamhill County Juvenile Detention in McMinnville.
The county has contracted with Cowlitz County, Washington, but that contract will expire at the end of the year as the county shifts to Yamhill County.
Kelly Braaten, the county’s juvenile director, said the juvenile detention facility in Cowlitz County is the closest. However, he said, there are several challenges that come with using the out-of-state facility.
Some of those challenges, Braaten said, include the inability of the Oregon Department of Human Services to conduct business in the Longview facility. He said youth have to be picked up and brought back to Oregon for the Department of Human Services to conduct interviews.
He said another challenge is the lack of video capabilities at the facility for youth to virtually attend court hearings. Probation counselors often have to drive to Cowlitz County several times a month so youth can appear by video using their technology.
Braaten said Yamhill County has the capabilities for virtual hearings and visits.
Cowlitz County also does not accept youth 18 years or older, so Clatsop County has been contracting with Yamhill County for space for older youth.
“For the most part, it definitely served the purpose and it filled the need. But I think we’re excited for the ability to use Yamhill,” said Braaten, who took over the county’s Juvenile Department last year.
“Probably within the first couple of months of me kind of looking at things and trying to determine what’s the best route to move towards, having those two separate contracts makes sense,” he said. “But in my mind, it always made sense to kind of flip-flop them. So have Yamhill as our main contract and then have Cowlitz as a backup. If for some reason there’s no room, then we could potentially use Cowlitz as a backup.”
Clatsop County contracts with Cowlitz County for two beds, or 730 days. Usually, more than two children can stay at the facility at the same time, as long as the number of days does not exceed 730 days.
However, the county has been limited to two actual beds at a time due to coronavirus restrictions.
Three months ago, Braaten said, there was only two youth in custody, but they were both 18 and older and therefore had to go to Yamhill County.
In that case, the county was paying for beds in Cowlitz County but could not utilize them.
Braaten said that on average, based on the number of days, Clatsop County has 1 1/2 children in detention.
He said Yamhill County will honor the contract for the two youth ages 18 and older until the next fiscal year, when they begin a new contract for 1 1/2 beds.
“That way, we’re not paying for something we might not use,” Braaten said. “If we happen to need more then we’ll pay the daily rate for the additional beds if we have to.
“Either we slightly underutilize it or slightly overutilize and pay a little bit more. But I think in the long run, theoretically, it should save money because we’re not losing out on that space.”
Braaten said underutilizing beds is the risk counties run in trying to guarantee detention services.
“That’s one of the challenges of not having your own detention facility,” he said. “But in the long run, it’s far more fiscally responsible to try and secure those services from a provider that already exists.”