Transition services for female youth in state custody lag behind those available to males. The Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) has opened a transition pilot program for female youth, but funding has only been allocated through mid-2017.
OYA and counties show an interest in improved program reporting, but county program reporting is still inconsistent and incomplete. Without an accurate picture of program participation, it is difficult to evaluate program effectiveness or forecast service needs for the juvenile justice system.
Female youth are a growing share of the juvenile justice population
Female youth, including both adolescent girls and young women age 16 or older, are a growing portion of the juvenile offender population in Oregon. While overall youth referrals to juvenile departments have declined since the early 1990s, the decline has been much steeper for male youth offenders. Referral rates for females have remained comparatively steady. As a result, the proportion of statewide referrals for female youth in Oregon rose from 33% in 2000 to 37% in 2014.
Female youth have unique treatment needs
Female youth in juvenile justice tend to have more acute physical and mental health needs, and three times as many female youth in OYA custody have attempted suicide as their male counterparts. A substantial number report previous sexual, physical and emotional abuse, for which they have received little, if any, treatment. Female youth also tend to respond to untreated trauma differently; they are more likely to run away, and less likely to engage in more criminal acts. As a result, female youth sometimes do not receive appropriate treatment until their behavior lands them in the juvenile justice system.
Young women in Oregon Youth Authority custody do not have equitable transition services
Three permanent, stand-alone transition facilities for male youth offenders are operated by OYA, but the state does not currently operate an equivalent stand-alone program for female offenders. OYA has a dedicated building for a female transition program, but has been unable to secure funding to run the full program. The building had not been used for its intended purpose since its construction in 2010. OYA opened a transition pilot program in the unused facility in November 2015.
Previously, Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility had hosted a limited female transition program within the custody facility. But this arrangement did not allow participants in the program to partake fully in community activities, and taxed staffing resources needed to run Oak Creek. Should the pilot program not be permanently funded following the trial period, it will have to be moved back to Oak Creek.
Community facilities that provided services to female youth also recently closed, creating a gap in available treatment options. OYA currently reports on gender disparities as part of its budget request, but a standalone report on gender equity could draw more attention to gaps that should be addressed.
Need for better county program and service tracking
Due to the lack of comprehensive county program data, we were unable to draw system wide conclusions about the effectiveness of treatment and programming for female youth in the juvenile justice system. Without a clear picture of what programs are being used and how appropriately services are matched with female youth offenders’ needs, it is difficult to evaluate program effectiveness or accurately forecast service needs for the juvenile justice system.
Less than a quarter of Oregon counties report documenting all youth program participation in the Juvenile Justice Information System (JJIS). Of the county files we reviewed, over half of female youth offenders’ program participation was not documented in a form that can be extracted and analyzed. This means that the program data reported in JJIS for both female and male youth offenders is incomplete and inconsistent, and cannot be used to analyze trends or inform program evaluations or statewide policymaking decisions.
OYA and county juvenile departments are responsible for comprehensive and accurate program reporting. However, program reporting is a relatively new function in JJIS, and counties are only required to report participation in state-funded programs.
- OYA work with the Legislature to seek ongoing funding to operate the Young Women’s Transition Program beyond the pilot period and ensure adequate community services for female youth;
- OYA consider creating a regular, standalone report to identify and address disparities between transition programming for male and female youth;
- OYA and county juvenile departments work together to delineate what program information should be captured in JJIS and help ensure that program information is entered consistently; and
- OYA and county juvenile departments work together to further identify and resolve existing barriers and restrictions to program data entry and collaborate on finding ways to improve program reporting.
The agency coordinated its response with the Oregon Juvenile Department Directors Association, and together they generally agreed with our recommendations. They intend to work collaboratively to resolve program data entry barriers and help ensure program information is consistently entered into JJIS. OYA will also pursue ongoing funding for the Young Women’s Transitional Program. The full agency response can be found at the end of the report.