Community Works and Oregon Youth Authority officials will meet next week to discuss whether to implement security measures at Lithia Springs Boys Home after four more boys ran away this week.
Officials at the Lithia Springs Boys Home are considering whether to make the facility secure after four more boys ran away this week in two separate incidents.
The incidents bring to 10 the number of boys who've run away in the past four weeks.
"We are monitoring the situation and we're going to be working with Lithia Springs to see if there is something we can do to address this," said Ann Snyder, spokeswoman for the Oregon Youth Authority, which has jurisdiction over the boys in the home run by Community Works. "Obviously it is of concern to us."
Three teens who fled the home Tuesday appeared to be copying a runaway incident last month, in which six teens left, said Dan Murphy, president and chief executive officer of Community Works. A 14-year-old boy was involved in both incidents, he said.
"The best we can tell, the three who left on Tuesday apparently had been sort of covertly figuring out a way they could make their exit," he said. "We're seeing sort of a ripple effect or a copycat effect."
As of Wednesday evening, the three boys had not been located, according to police. They ran away after being dropped off at an alternative school on Mistletoe Road at 9 a.m.
A boy who fled alone on Monday evening later turned himself in and has returned to the home, Murphy said.
Community Works and Oregon Youth Authority officials will meet next week to discuss whether to implement security measures in the home. Currently, staff members are not allowed to lock the doors or restrain the boys. The teens are free to leave, but if they do, they're reported as runaways and may be barred from returning. "We're not a secure facility and the question is, do we become a secure facility and start putting in all these other measures to make it feel prison like?" Murphy said.
Last year, police took 12 reports of runaways from the home, according to Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness.
It's too soon to tell whether the recent spate of runaways represents a significant problem, he said.
"Am I concerned? Yeah, but I'm not going to get over-concerned without a lot more data because traditionally this has been a pretty good place for kids to be, relative to the options," he said.
Once the boys are reported as runaways, warrants are issued for their arrest, Holderness said.
The treatment facility can hold up to 13 boys, age 13 to 18. All of the boys at the home have committed minor crimes and have been given clearance from the youth authority to attend a non-secure treatment program.
The youth authority gave the boys home its highest rating, "highly effective," in 2009.
"We have no concerns with the treatment that Lithia provides," Snyder said. "We do want to make sure we find ways to keep the youth there so that they can benefit from the treatment."
Roughly 12 percent of boys treated at the home return to crime. Statewide, about 35 percent of youths who have received treatment or have been in custody return to crime, according to Murphy.
On Jan. 26, six boys who were supposed to be doing chores ran away from the home, its largest runaway incident in its history. Three of the boys were returned to the home, after being given clearance by the youth authority. The state agency has barred the others from coming back, officials said.
Two boys also left the home on Jan. 16 and stole a car on Laurel Street, which they later totaled.
The boys involved in the January incidents were found within 36 hours and placed in the custody of the youth authority.
Youth authority and Community Works officials are hoping to prevent future runaway incidents, Murphy said.
"It's unsettling to the kids. It's unsettling to the staff. It's unsettling to us," he said. "The last thing we want to do is have the community feel like this is something that's a big threat to them."
Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.