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Legislature to consider plan that would close Hillcrest campus in Salem and significantly overhaul, expand MacLaren



Photo Credit: TYLER FRANCKE | WOODBURN INDEPENDENT - A group of youths committed at MacLaren watch a soccer match in one of the 90-year-old correctional facility's housing units. Pictured are, front row, left to right, Jones (who asked to be identified by only his last name), Keegan Michaels, Andrew Martin and Griffin Thomas.MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Woodburn could see the size of its operations double in the coming years, pending the approval of the Oregon Legislature.

The multi-phase project, quite possibly the most significant overhaul in MacLaren’s 90-year history, is part of a 10-year strategic plan proposed by the Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) and prepared by two consultants, DLR Group, of Portland, and Chinn Planning, of Columbia, S.C.

The strategy includes detailed recommendations for all 10 of OYA’s close-custody facilities — not just MacLaren.

However, the Woodburn location is one of the key linchpins in the overall strategy, based on the consultants’ proposal to close Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility in Salem by 2017, and relocate its staff and youth population to MacLaren — which would roughly double the size of the latter.

According to the report, Hillcrest and MacLaren are OYA’s two largest facilities. They are both located in the Willamette Valley, and they are both underutilized.

Hillcrest, on a 45-acre site in southeast Salem, has a physical capacity of 298 beds in its current configuration, but its budgeted capacity is only 136.

The 172-acre MacLaren campus was also budgeted for 136 beds last year, though its current physical capacity is 347. At its peak in 2001, MacLaren housed 400 youth offenders.

The two properties are also OYA’s oldest locations, and both have backlogs of high-priority deferred maintenance projects in excess of $5 million (MacLaren’s is larger, at $5.6 million).

Photo Credit: TYLER FRANCKE | WOODBURN INDEPENDENT - Alex, a 23-year-old youth offender housed at MacLaren (who asked to be identified only by his first name) reads a book in the Woodburn facility's newly renovated law library. The library is located in one of MacLaren's eight housing cottages, which was earlier renovated to meet the facility's increased program and treatment needs, and to reflect its increased focus on vocational and career training.Both have buildings that are in need of seismic upgrades, and both have facilities whose layout and fixtures no longer reflect the philosophy and treatment needs of the OYA.

The latter is one of the most glaring needs at MacLaren, according to Dan Berger, that facility’s superintendent.

During a recent tour of the Woodburn campus, Berger highlighted a number of components of MacLaren’s housing or programmatic facilities that the 10-year plan would drastically change or phase out altogether, due to their being out of step with the OYA’s vision and culture.

One example: the enclosed receiving yards outside most of the facility’s eight dormitory-style cottages — literally, steel cages that have been used to control traffic in and out of the housing units since they were constructed in the early 1960s.

Berger said they are no longer needed.

“Those are really relics from before MacLaren had the fence (around the entire facility),” he said.

Other facets of the housing and living areas that reflect a more institutional atmosphere would be replaced under the proposed renovation, such as barred windows, bare floors and brick walls.

“We want an environment that doesn’t feel so correctional,” Berger said. “We’re going for something that feels less prison-like and more residential.”

Jayson Ellis, a treatment manager at MacLaren, agreed such changes would be beneficial.

“We’re always striving for normalcy,” he said. “But you look around here, and you see the brick; you see the cages.”

The report by DLR and Chinn also noted this discrepancy, describing it as a systemwide problem, not something specific to MacLaren.

“The current mix of facilities within the OYA system does not support the vision, mission and culture of OYA,” the report read in part. “Housing and living areas reflect the most serious gap between vision and reality.”

At the same time, however, Berger stressed that it is important to the OYA to maintain, or even improve on, the public safety aspect of its facilities.

Though, under the proposal, residential windows would no longer be barred, they would be constructed of thick, transparent material that is just as secure. Though the housing units’ interiors would be more open and comfortable, they would also allow for better line-of-sight and surveillance by OYA staff.

“Public safety is still one of our top priorities,” Berger said. “That’s one of the challenges: how to balance traditional safety and security with treatment, programs and positive human development.”

The report based the recommendation to close Hillcrest over MacLaren on several rationale.

For one thing, while both campuses have seismic, maintenance and configuration issues, Hillcrest’s multi-story buildings would be more costly to retrofit and improve on than MacLaren’s mostly single-story stock.

Also, Hillcrest’s land value per acre in southeast Salem is more than 10 times higher than MacLaren’s. If the property sold (its total value is estimated in the $5 million range), it could help fund later phases of the 10-year plan.

Another consideration was the flexibility and room to grow offered by MacLaren’s much-larger campus.

“MacLaren’s location, campus size and other positive features make it the ideal location to serve as the single OYA youth correctional facility for male youth offenders in the Willamette Valley,” the report said.

The report, which was commissioned by the Legislature in 2013 and motivated, in part, by a declining youth offender population statewide (a trend that is predicted to continue), recommended millions of dollars worth of investment in the MacLaren campus.

Suggested improvements include significant renovations to the existing cottages and the Geer Complex on the east side of the campus; the construction of a new 32-bed, single-occupancy housing building; the creation of an intake and assessment program; and the overhaul of the existing gatehouse to improve screening, meeting and central security functions.

The renovation of one of MacLaren’s housing units as a “prototype” cottage is expected to continue through June.

Other components of the first phase of the plan are subject to the will of the Legislature but, if approved, would be anticipated to wrap up in August 2017.

To see the full 10-year plan, click here.

Tyler Francke covers all things Woodburn. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-765-1195.

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