Portland’s Multnomah County juvenile justice system is broken, with youth offenders not being held accountable for serious crimes, says a crime victims’ advocacy group report quoted by The Oregonian. The report, written by a retired juvenile probation officer for Crime Victims United, took more than a year and is dedicated to the memory of Davonte Lightfoot, a 14-year-old who was fatally shot last year. When he was gunned down, Lightfoot was wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet. He already had 16 juvenile referrals, a history of probation violations and a gun possession charge. Three weeks before Lightfoot’s death, a prosecutor unsuccessfully tried to persuade a judge to detain him.
“From the intake of cases, through court proceedings and probation, delinquent youth are given few credible reasons to change,” the report says. “Effective enforcement of court-ordered mandates is scarce to nonexistent.” The report blames the county for taking the philosophy of the Annie E. Casey Foundation too far, essentially designing a juvenile justice system that looks more like a child welfare agency intent on minimizing consequences for youth facing criminal charges. The foundation provided Multnomah and five other counties money in the mid-’90s for reforms that encouraged detention alternatives for young offenders. As a result, the report argues, fewer juvenile offenders are detained; staff who challenge decisions face potential retribution, the private nonprofit agencies assigned to make initial contacts with youth have no power to enforce treatment or other conditions of offenders’ probation; and police have lost confidence in the system. The report notes that youth who are detained on serious charges may play handheld video games in their rooms.