WARRENTON - Closure of Oregon Youth Authority facilities would economically devastate communities that depend on them for jobs.

But it could also put up to 375 hard-core offenders back on the street.

Budget cuts in early 2003 forced the closure of five regional Oregon Youth Authority centers. Warrenton's North Coast Youth Correctional Facility was among them. It partially reopened in mid-2004.

Now, the prospect of an even tighter budget threatens the facility again.

Local leaders are worried that when an important state economic forecast is released Friday, the community will experience a sense of deja vu.

Former state senator Joan Dukes and then-Rep. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, fought to get the facility re-opened when it closed six years ago.

Johnson, now a state senator, said Monday that the Oregon Youth Authority facility has already appeared on a closure list.

"It got closed once before and I clawed and scratched to get it re-opened. The economic ramifications - those OYA facilities are key economic drivers in communities," Johnson said.

There are 11 OYA sites spread across Oregon. Johnson said she has already made the case for keeping the facilities open with committee chairmen and other state leadership.

In addition to providing economic benefits for the communities where they are located, the facilities help keep the public safe and offer opportunities to reform some of the highest-risk youth in the state.

"These aren't guys that spray-painted a wall," she said. "These are kids with significant criminal issues."

Youth offenders, ages 12 to 25, live in dorms in the facility. They attend daily classes and treatment programs through the week.

The Warrenton building has a gym, clinic, library and kitchen.

When the facility closed, it had been housing 75 offenders from five surrounding counties.

The facility reopened with only 25 offenders, with the mission to treat juveniles with substance abuse problems.

Then in 2006, the facility's capacity was increased to 50, with plans to return to the 75-bed capacity. It was scheduled to open 25 more beds this month, but that expansion was recently postponed until July 2010.

"I think, what we're doing - we're in a holding pattern until Friday when the economic forecast comes out," said facility Superintendent Wally Blinde. He added that the OYA stafff are also watching to see if they will get some relief from the federal stimulus package that just passed through Congress.

Blinde said the cycle of "mothball and reactivation" is devastating to operations. Personnel whom the OYA had to let go the last time the facility was closed were skeptical about coming back.

The worst-case scenario is that 375 beds statewide would have to be eliminated from the OYA. There are several different scenarios proposed if that comes to pass. A group of OYA supervisors elected that no facilities be closed. Rather, each facility would reduce the number of beds it provides. But they may have no choice.

"Three hundred, seventy-five hard-core, high-risk offenders would be released to the public. We have a lot of those at North Coast," Blinde said. "All ours are high-risk."

He said Willy Butler, one of two teenagers murdered in Portland New Year's Eve, was a graduate of the North Coast facility.


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