Profile of Oregon youth offenders emerges

From, December 22, 2010

A new study of Oregon teens and early-20-somethings behind bars found more than half have mental health conditions or drug/alcohol dependencies. One out of every five have a very low IQ or were sexually abused; one out of every four have experienced physical or emotional abuse; and one out of every eight already had a kid.

These are among the findings in a new Oregon Youth Authority survey of youth offenders. The OYA has conducted the Mental Health Gap Survey every other year since 2000; information is collected on all youth in OYA custody on April 1 of the survey year. Officials in the state juvenile corrections agency use the data to “track trends and identify unmet needs for services,” it reports.

“These data underscore how much support these youth need to put them on a path to crime-free lives,” said OYA Director Colette S. Peters in a prepared statement issued Tuesday. “By responding to these youths’ treatment and education needs now, we improve our chances of successfully protecting the public, reducing crime and reaching these youths’ potential to be productive, crime-free citizens.”

The study found that 19 percent of OYA youth had IQs below 80, putting them in the bottom quintile – a significant increase from 11 percent in 2004. Sixty-four percent of youth had diagnosed mental health conditions, while 61 percent were diagnosed as abusing or dependent on alcohol or other drugs. Twenty percent had experienced sexual abuse, and a quarter had experienced physical or emotional abuse.

Among females in close-custody facilities, 52 percent had histories of sexual abuse compared with 17 percent for males. Thirty percent of females in close custody had attempted suicide at least once, 42 percent had an IQ below 80, 59 percent were diagnosed with a conduct disorder, 63 percent were taking psychotropic medications, and 85 percent were diagnosed with abuse or dependence on alcohol or other drugs.

Overall, one in four youth offenders had a biological parent with a psychiatric history. A majority of youth had a biological parent with a history of alcohol or other drug abuse. And one in eight already was the parent of a child.

OYA has custody of about 900 offenders ages 12 to 24 in correctional and transitional facilities in Albany, Burns, Florence, Grants Pass, La Grande, Salem, Tillamook, Warrenton and Woodburn, and supervises about 1,100 youth on probation or parole in communities throughout Oregon.