youth justice project
The OJRC is committed to reducing the criminalization and incarceration of young people, particularly youth from disenfranchised communities. Youth in Oregon are vulnerable to automatic involvement in the adult criminal justice system from as young as 15 years old. Oregon is one of the highest incarcerators of youth remanded to the adult system in the United States and also has the dubious distinction of being one of only a few states that continue to sentence juvenile offenders to life without the possibility of parole.
The punitive "tough on crime" response to youth crime and misbehavior does not work. Youth should not be subjected to mandatory minimum sentences and should always have a meaningful opportunity for earned release. We must recognize and accept that young people are still developing and should be given opportunities for treatment, rehabilitation, habilitation, and positive reinforcement. Ending excessive sentences and extreme punishments of youth is of the utmost importance to protect young people in the justice system and our wider communities.
The Youth Justice Project (YJP) takes a holistic approach to addressing the systemic flaws in Oregon’s treatment of youth in the adult system:
- The YJP identifies and assists juvenile offenders sentenced under Measure 11 (Oregon's mandatory minimum sentencing structure for "person" crimes), and to life or natural life in prison;
- The YJP acts as a clearing house for lawyers who represent juvenile lifers in state and federal court or pursuing executive clemency;
- We advocate for the elimination of Measure 11 and life without the possibility of parole sentences for juvenile offenders (in law or de facto) in Oregon. We believe mandatory minimum sentences for youth or a sentence of life without the possibility of parole or a sentence of de facto life for a juvenile offender is a manifest injustice and unconstitutional, as articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller and Montgomery and in light of scientific evidence that the adolescent brain is not fully developed. Treating children as anything but children in the imposition of punishment is a failure to recognize the scientific developments of the last decade.
The YJP assists individuals with filing the appropriate paperwork in the court system, supports their claims with amicus briefs, and collaborates with other organizations and attorneys on these issues:
- Implementing and expanding the principles of Miller/Graham in Oregon (litigation, policy, and public education);
- Tracking and advocating for youth prosecuted and sentenced in the adult system: The YJP is developing a system to begin engagement at the point of arrest and following through all steps of the process. We will generate regular reports that will begin to answer the following questions: What categories of crimes are Oregon youth being prosecuted for? Who are these youth? Where are they coming from? From this report, we will construct informed policy, litigation, and programmatic recommendations;
- Develop tools and practices to educate youth and families.
Families of youth who have been charged with or convicted of Measure 11 crimes essentially lose their child to the criminal system. From the moment a child is arrested, parents experience restricted access to their child. Parents are no longer able or are very limited in their ablility to make basic decisions regarding their child’s health, safety, or development. These decisions are in the hands of state officials.
Parental rights are a fundamental constitutional right protected by the Due Process Clause. The YJP will work with families and correctional institutions to ensure families and youth are able to stay connected in meaningful ways.
Oregon’s Parole Board operates based on rules and practices that, generally, do not fully account or appreciate a youth's experience in the legal system. The YJP will work with incarcerated youth in the Oregon Department of Corrections who are parole eligible. Among other things, we will assist youth with release plans and ready them for hearings, and ensure they have adequate legal representation.
Additionally, we will work with state legislators, parole board members, attorney advocates, and organizations locally and around the nation who have the experience of making positive changes to parole boards and processes to forward reforms to our board that will benefit youth offenders.
Community Outreach & Speaking Engagements
The YJP will regularly engage colleges, agencies, organizations, and individuals that are interested in this work. YJP team members have solid relationships with various educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, and agencies.
The YJP is developing a monthly update newsletter for youth in corrections and extending to families of those affected. By inspiring hope through information as well as empowering the individuals affected by the system, we hope to create a more connected base to better address areas of concern. This will also provide an avenue for continued communication between our efforts and those involved with the system. The YJP will start with a quarterly newsletter in 2018 and move to a monthly format at the start of 2019.
About the Team
Conrad Engweiler is a formerly incarcerated youth offender who served 25 years in Oregon state correctional facilities and has been out of custody since 2014. Conrad spent 17 years working in the prison law library assisting indigent offenders with all legal issues that presented themselves, including 1983 civil rights claims, family law, post-conviction relief, habeas, administrative appeals, parole board preparation, and appeals. Notably, Conrad overturned the Juvenile Aggravated Murder (JAM) rules; he also succeeded in enforcing the application of 20 percent earned credit to the sentences of youth offenders sentenced to life imprisonment. Since his release, he has eaten a lot of gummy bears while working as a paralegal to criminal defense and civil rights attorneys around the state of Oregon.
Althea Seloover is a private investigator and criminal justice reform advocate. She has spent more than ten years (since her early teens) volunteering, researching, working, speaking, organizing, and advocating for criminal justice reform. Althea began volunteering at a juvenile detention facility in Oregon in 2012 and has since spent thousands of volunteer hours working with Oregon’s incarcerated youth and adults. In 2013, she co-founded UO Criminal Justice Network at her alma mater, the University of Oregon. In 2015, Althea and Conrad started Criminal Defense Support Services, providing paralegal, investigative, and document management services to criminal defense attorneys around Oregon. In her spare time, Althea works with incarcerated adults preparing for parole hearings.
Trevor Walraven is a formerly incarcerated youth offender who served almost 18 years in correctional facilities starting at age 14. In February 2016, Trevor successfully proved outstanding rehabilitation and reformation under Oregon’s "Second Look" statute. He was the second juvenile lifer to be released under Second Look. While incarcerated, Trevor was the youngest elected president of the Oregon State Penitentiary Lifers Unlimited Club. He led Oregon’s Inside/Out Think Tank which trains Oregon professors to teach Inside/Out around the globe and oversees Inside/Out classes in Oregon. Since his release, Trevor has spoken at many of Oregon’s institutions including universities, correctional facilities, and advocacy organizations about the experience growing up in the state's criminal justice system.