Foster system key to reducing incarceration rates
It is estimated that 2.2 million adults are incarcerated throughout the United States. Of these, 75 percent were previously in foster care as well as 80 percent of those on death row. What a tragedy for our society.
As one who spent his elementary and high school years in and out of foster homes, juvenile halls, reform schools, work camps and ultimately a boy's ranch for being "out of parental control." I can attest that many young people have been mistreated as children simply because they were born "illegitimate."
Fortunately, in 1975 the Oregon Legislature voted to repeal the law which made those of us born bastards null and void. Unfortunately, many of those who went through the system have been damaged and for one reason or another could never seem to rise above the words and actions that cause them to rebel.
In my particular case I spent my last three years as a teenager at the Double T Boys Ranch in Bend, run by two ex-military men; Tom Warren (U.S. Army) and Tom Cobos (U.S. Marine). It was there where kids were taught solid moral principles; don't lie, don't cheat and don't steal, etc. It was this ranch where foster kids (David Apperson, Jerry Goodin, Jimmy Coulson, Ivan Truax, Tad David, Wayne Schull) were involved with the last paid teenage firefighting crew in the state of Oregon.
When I turned 17 in 1976, I enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as a grenadier, machine gunner, and a police officer with the 2nd Infantry Division on the Korean Demilitarized Zone. After Korea I was stationed at Fort Campbell Kentucky with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). Testimony of my military service can be found at myveteran.org.
A few years after returning to Oregon (in 1981), I spoke at MacLaren School for Boys (now the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility) to inmates incarcerated for breaking the law. A few days after the speech, I was informed I was the first person in the history of MacLaren ever allowed to return as a guest speaker.
My message was simple; "Just because someone says you are no good or you will be a criminal all your life ... doesn't mean you have to be one."
Ten years after my speech I ran across a guy who told me he had just been released from the Oregon State Penitentiary having served eight years for a crime that he committed. He said during his time in prison he kept thinking of the words I spoke while he was a teenager at MacLaren and said he was determined to stay out of trouble and never to go to jail again.
If he stayed out of prison I do not know. But I do know all children need hope for a better future.
Due to the fact I myself was tortured as a child at the hands of a maniac I became a violent kid. This was my way of protecting myself from extensive child abuse and possible death.
At the boys' ranch Tom Warren taught me I don't have to fight the world and sometimes I should just walk away. They are good words but sometimes a fight is necessary when events take place as in the song by Kenny Rogers regarding the Gatlin boys.
Presently there are over 7,500 kids in Oregon foster care. I believe if we are to help upcoming generations, we must find solid solutions for these kids.
Even though no system is perfect and no one can repair the damage caused to these children, we still must, as a civil society do something.
According to the Oregon Department of Human Services foster parents are paid up to $795 per month per child. This amount does not represent the cost for administration, court fees, medical expenses, and other direct and non-direct childcare expenses.
According to the Vera Institute of Justice, during the last 50 years the prison population has grown 700 percent nationwide. Incarceration costs for adults' averages $31,000 per inmate, per year and in some cases, it can cost as much as $60,000 a year per inmate.
There is also the cost to family members of those incarcerated as well as the victims of the crime — legal fees, hotel bills, phone calls, gas expenses and, in some cases, the loss of income.
According to the state of Oregon website, 70 percent of released inmates never end up back in prison. In other words, if those in foster care are able to receive an education (either college or trade school) and are able to find gainful employment, many would never end up homeless or in prison in the first place.
The Oregon Department of Corrections has an annual budget of $1.4 billion dollars with roughly 15,000 individuals being incarcerated each and every year. You do the math.
Logic dictates that it is much cheaper to help a child than to incarcerate an adult. I am proud of our state for supporting those who have aged-out with funds to allow our young people the opportunity for a higher education or trade school apprenticeship.
David Apperson is a resident of the urban unincorporated area of Clackamas.
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