As two middle school boys from rural McMinnville, Or., go on trial today for slapping girls on the buttocks, their case highlights a little-discussed aspect of Oregon’s juvenile system: a wide disparity in the way counties resolve juvenile sex offenses, with community mores dictating the balance between punishment and rehabilitation, The Oregonian reports. Yamhill County is on one end of the spectrum, arresting and prosecuting juvenile sex offenses at a rate higher than almost anywhere else in the state.
Arrest rates of juvenile sex offenders in Portland-area counties are roughly half the state average. And cases go to a judge far less frequently than in the state as a whole. “Maybe a smaller county may be less tolerant,” said Tim Loewen, Yamhill County’s juvenile director. Juvenile offenders do go to jail in larger counties — most notably those juveniles convicted of more serious crimes, which require mandatory prison time. Officials in those counties say they try to focus more on rehabilitating kids than on punishing them. “Treatment is a top priority,” said Sally Hampshire, a Multnomah County juvenile counselor who handles sex offenders. “We don’t hold kids if we don’t have to.”