Volunteer to support youth in Oregon’s juvenile justice system

ICYMI, we’ve spent this month tackling some of the big questions and thorny challenges in Oregon’s juvenile justice system, from what justice looks like for kids who commit violent crimes to what the state legislature can do about a non-unanimous jury law that puts Oregon in bad company with Louisiana.

If you’re fired up to learn more— or to help support youth in the system — here are a few ways to get started.

📖 Get smart. Start with the documentary Prison Kids: Juvenile Justice in America for a national view, then read up on Oregon’s Measure 11 debate and the impact of mandatory minimum sentencing on youth in our state. Chapter 8 of Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy is also a great read.

🎽 Give the gift of running. The MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility and the Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility both have running programs, and they welcome donations of shoes, water bottles, and other gear. You can also volunteer to help train the runners or join them for workouts. Email the Oregon Youth Authority for more information.

🐶 Become a POOCH ambassador. Project POOCH pairs youth at MacLaren with homeless shelter dogs that they learn to train, groom, and connect with a permanent home. Opportunities to work directly with the dogs are limited, but you can support the cause by becoming a POOCH Ambassador.

✍️ Lead a workshop. The Oregon Youth Authority and the Morpheus Youth Project both need volunteers to lead workshops or provide tutoring or mentorship to help kids in the system. At OYA’s MacLaren facility, volunteers lead workshops in the arts, life skills, leadership and personal development, and transition resources.

👪 Become a foster parent. OYA communications director Benjamin Chambers says there’s a huge need for foster parents in the Portland area, especially for youth of color and LGBTQ youth. Here’s a video about the foster care experience, and here’s where to learn more.

💪 Support an advocacy group. If the state legislature tackles juvenile justice reform next year, the NAACP of Portland and the Oregon Justice Resource Center’s Youth Justice Project are two organizations that will be involved in advocacy and political organizing. And they’ll need all the support they can get.

🤓 Help youth earn degrees. Advanced education reduces the chance that a youth will commit a new crime, but many youth in the system can’t afford tuition and books. You can help by making a contribution to OYA’s New Beginnings College Scholarship Program.

📣 Share a story. The Second Chance Project (an initiative led by Dave’s Killer Bread) is trying to fight the stigma that makes it hard for people with criminal histories to get jobs. If you have a story about how a second-chance job impacted your life, you can share it here.