BEND, Ore. - In Deschutes County, all juvenile referrals are sent to the Juvenile Justice Center, a practice that differs from some counties, according to Ken Hales, director of the Deschutes County Community Justice Center.
"Some communities that are resource-rich, they have non-profit programs, so a lot of referrals will come from a police officer's encounter with a youth, who will refer that youth to the program and not to the juvenile program," Hales said.
So when a recent report from Children First for Oregon suggested that Deschutes County has a high number of juvenile justice referrals when compared to the rest of the state, it warranted a closer look.
According to District Attorney John Hummel, the report does not break down criminal acts vs. non-criminal acts.
"I don’t think Deschutes County has more kids committing crime, but the referral numbers include crime, but also maybe runaways, curfew violations, minor offenses, including tobacco," Hummel said.
The decision to refer one infraction over another often comes at the discretion of an individual police officer.
"The key is, you don’t want kids coming into the justice system for doing things kids do," Hales said. "And kids do silly things."
The goal is to make sure those "silly things" are punished appropriately.
Hummel said, "If they’re presented to the juvenile justice system and the hammer is dropped on them and we lock them up and the district attorney seeks the maximum penalty, that could be injurious to them. That could be bad.".
In the past decade, the number of juveniles referred to the center has dropped by 40 percent. But it has risen in recent years, partly because of a growing population.
To see the full report, you can head to this website: https://www.cffo.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Data-Book-2017.pdf