Multnomah County’s Juvenile Services Division officially broke ground on renovations designed to create a more trauma-informed, developmentally appropriate and overall safer environment for youth in detention.
The multimillion-dollar renovation will serve as a substantial upgrade to the detention center, which was constructed in the 1990s during the height of pervasive and “superpredator era” fears of juvenile delinquency, and the juvenile justice system’s resulting reliance on institutional confinement.
Today, much has changed in the world of juvenile justice. Best practices now include an emphasis on rehabilitation and learning thanks to widely recognized research on brain development in young people that shows the harmful impact of trauma, including trauma from institution-like environments.
“Neuroscience research on adolescent brain development shows that individuals do not achieve full brain development in the area needed for decision-making and self-control until their mid-20s,” said Deena Corso, Multnomah County’s Juvenile Services director. “Youth have a tremendous capacity for rehabilitation. We continue to recognize best practices with youth and that includes environments in detention.”
On Thursday, June 9, Corso stood alongside Juvenile Services and Department of County Assets staff with a sledgehammer in hand and took the first swing in the demolition of two housing units at the Donald E. Long Detention Center. The renovation will include, among other upgrades, revised layouts that allow for better use of the facility, including the creation of a counseling space to help promote better engagement and interaction between staff and youth.
The work also includes upgrades to sleeping rooms, which will soon offer separated sinks and toilets instead of single sink-toilet combinations. The project will also improve shower rooms for the youth, and provide better staff workstations and amenities for the many professionals who work with them at the detention center.
The color schemes inside the detention center will also change to include more earth-like tones, such as those depicted in nature and in landscape drawings.
Research shows color choices can make a big difference in creating a trauma-informed environment. Even something as simple as a color scheme with a lighter value at the top, a medium value in the middle and a dark value at the bottom — like a landscape — can be soothing and promote self-guided therapy and healing.
“The changes inside detention accompany physical changes that have also occurred in other areas of our building, where we recognize that part of pro-social, positive change is an environment that depicts that positive change and the infinite possibilities that a person’s future may hold,” said Corso.
The remodel also formally removes antiquated and long-shuttered “seclusion rooms” from the detention center. Multnomah County, like other jurisdictions nationally, stopped using solitary confinement long ago, citing an abundance of evidence that the practice can cause psychological and physiological damage.
The renovations will also create enhanced outdoor spaces, including a paved walking path, a resurfaced basketball court and added exercise equipment in an outdoor commons area.
Alongside the facilities renovations, Juvenile Services will continue other improvements in its work overall, further developing its restorative practices and creating a plan to implement them successfully, such as dialogues that allow the opportunity for the youth to take responsibility and make amends to repair the harm to the extent possible.
“We are committed to improving the physical space for youth in detention. We’re also committed to improving other conditions of confinement,” Corso said. “This includes funding that will allow us to integrate restorative practices that build and repair relationships and de-emphasize punitive discipline in order to advance communication that resolves conflict.”
The renovations are in line with recommendations made by the Multnomah County Department of Community Justice’s Community Budget Advisory Committee to incorporate more restorative practices in juvenile detention facilities and to better serve survivors of violence and people who have caused harm. The recommendations accompany investments the department is making overall in community-based, culturally specific services and services for victims of crime.
“This building is 27 years old and in disrepair,’’ said Corso. “This investment will fund the restoration of two pods and enhance the environment to become more trauma-informed and developmentally appropriate, and improve engagement, interaction, safety and security.”