The juvenile justice system places a strong emphasis on the rehabilitation of youth, rather than the focus on correction in the criminal system. In Oregon, much of this manifests itself in the collection of data, examining the unique circumstances of individuals in the system. According to the Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) website, the state is “a national leader in using evidence-based, effective treatment practices to prevent youth from committing additional crimes.” The Juvenile Justice Information System (JJIS), established in 1995, is an accumulation of all this data, providing information about current and past youth in the system, including gender, race, crime type and sometimes the treatment they received. The database is maintained by a collaborative effort between the OYA and county juvenile departments in Oregon.
House Bill 4082 was signed into law on February 28, 2018. The bill has two main components, relating to the maintenance of the JJIS and the sharing of the information stored within it. The first part emphasizes the partnership between the OYA and county juvenile departments in the development and maintenance of the database, indicating the role of county departments in providing data and the OYA’s responsibility to administer it. “It was really important [for the bill to address] that… the Oregon Youth Authority and the counties are in partnership [regarding the JJIS],” explains Christine Kirk, the Public Policy and Relations Manager and acting Deputy Director at the OYA.
Beyond the relationship between the OYA and county juvenile departments, HB 4082 addresses the sharing of the data contained in the JJIS, an issue which state laws had previously not regulated. “It is important that we work with our youth who are incarcerated to get [them on the most] safe and accurate pathway out of the Oregon Youth Authority [and out of] jail,” says Representative Carla Piluso, one of the chief sponsors of the bill, who has worked with the OYA. Piluso and Kirk stress the role of accurate data provided by the JJIS in looking at youth in the system, helping them account for the specific risks and needs for everyone.
HB 4082 allows information regarding “a youth or youth offender’s history and prognosis” in the JJIS to be shared with government agencies and institutes of higher education who have entered into an agreement regarding the disclosure of information with the OYA or county juvenile departments, so long as a certain level of confidentiality is maintained. This data is shared for the purpose of research and evaluation; by looking at past examples, the OYA can determine how to help current youth in the system in the least restrictive way. The OYA relies heavily on outside parties for this evaluation, either because they do not have the staff specializing in a specific branch of research, or because the participation of a neutral third party adds to the credibility of their data.
Although the bill has not been in effect long enough to evaluate its impact, Kirk hopes that it will continue to provide valuable data, helping the OYA and county juvenile departments assist youth in learning about the impacts of their actions and holding themselves accountable in the most effective way for each individual.