Juvenile Services inaugurates major renovation to create a more trauma-friendly detention center

June 16, 2022

The Juvenile Services Division of Multnomah County has officially inaugurated renovations designed to create a more trauma-friendly, developmentally appropriate and overall safer environment for youth in custody.

The multimillion-dollar renovation will serve as a substantial upgrade to the detention center, which was built in the 1990s at the height of widespread fears and the ‘era of superpredators’ of juvenile delinquency, and addiction resultant of the juvenile justice system to institutional confinement.

Today, a lot has changed in the world of juvenile justice. Best practice now emphasizes rehabilitation and learning through widely recognized research on brain development in young people that shows the detrimental impact of trauma, including trauma related to institutional-type environments.

“Neuroscience research on adolescent brain development shows that individuals do not achieve full brain development in the area necessary for decision-making and self-control until their mid-twenties,” said Deena Corso, Multnomah County Juvenile Services Director. “Young people have a tremendous capacity for rehabilitation. We continue to recognize best practices with young people and this includes detention environments.

On Thursday, June 9, Corso stood alongside Juvenile Services and County Assets Department staff with a hammer in hand and took the first blow in the demolition of two housing units at the Donald Detention Center. E.Length. The refurbishment will include, among other improvements, 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 young people.

The work also includes improvements to the bedrooms, which will soon offer separate sinks and toilets instead of single sink-toilet combinations. The project will also improve shower rooms for the youths and provide better workstations and staff amenities for the many professionals who work with them at the detention centre.

The color schemes inside the detention center will also change to include more earthy tones, such as those pictured in nature and in landscape drawings.

Research shows that 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 darker value at the bottom – like a landscape – can be soothing and promote self-guided therapy and healing.

“The changes inside the detention accompany the physical changes that have also happened in other areas of our building, where we recognize that part of the pro-social and positive change is an environment that portrays this positive change and the endless possibilities that a person’s future can provide,” Corso said.

The remodel also officially removes the detention center’s outdated, long-shuttered “segregation rooms.” Multnomah County, like other jurisdictions nationwide, stopped using solitary confinement long ago, citing an abundance of evidence that the practice can cause psychological and physiological harm.

The renovations will also create improved outdoor spaces, including a paved walking path, a revamped basketball court, and additional exercise equipment in an outdoor common area.

Along with facility renovations, Juvenile Services will pursue other improvements in their overall work, further developing their restorative practices and creating a plan to implement them successfully, such as restorative dialogues that allow young people to take their responsibilities and to make amends to repair the harm as far as possible.

“We are committed to improving the physical space for young people in detention. We are also committed to improving other containment conditions,” Corso said. “This includes funding that will allow us to integrate restorative practices that build and repair relationships and minimize punitive discipline in order to advance communication that resolves conflict.”

The renovations are consistent with recommendations made by the Multnomah County Community Justice Department. Community Budget Advisory Committee to integrate more restorative practices into juvenile detention centers and to better serve survivors of violence and those who have caused harm. The recommendations support the ministry’s overall investments in community and culturally appropriate services and services for victims of crime.

“This building is 27 years old and in poor condition,” Corso said. “This investment will fund the restoration of two pods and improve the environment to become more trauma sensitive and developmentally appropriate, and improve engagement, interaction, safety and security.”

Richard F. Gandhi