Boys home improving security

These days, running away from home isn't quite the Huck-Finn experience.

After two days on the lam, three boys who ran away from the Lithia Springs Boys Home on Walker Avenue last week called police in Weed, Calif. because they were cold and hungry.

The boys had been found, but officials at the home for troubled teens are still searching for a solution to the runaway problem. In a period of four weeks, ending last week, 10 boys fled the 13-bed home.

Officials from Community Works, which runs the facility, and the Oregon Youth Authority met Thursday to discuss the runaway incidents and create steps to avoid future "copycat cases," said Dan Murphy, president and chief executive officer of Community Works.

"We said, 'OK, how can we all step this up? What can we do that we haven't thought about before?'" he said. "I think there is hope that we'll be even more effective than we are now."

The youth authority and Community Works have decided to improve security at the facility and add another layer to the screening process for boys entering the home.

All of the boys, age 13 to 18, at the home have committed minor crimes and have been given clearance from the youth authority to attend a non-lockdown treatment program.

The youth authority gave the boys home its highest rating, "highly effective," in 2009.

Officials were hesitant to release details about the new security steps being taken, in order to prevent the boys from discovering them, but did say that the new measures will involve more supervision.

"Changes are underway," said Ann Snyder, spokeswoman for the youth authority. "We don't want to turn it into something resembling a closed-custody facility, but the steps we're taking are designed to increase security."

Community Works is implementing security measures at the boys home that are already used at an alternative school on Mistletoe Road, where the boys attend classes, Murphy said.

"In the school, where the kids attend, they make sure there's a staff member accompanying them all the time, when they're going to restroom or their classes," he said.

The youth authority is working to better screen boys before they enter the home, to try to prevent more runaway events, Snyder said.

"We're looking at whether the right youth are going to that facility," she said.

While there's no guarantee that the new measures will prevent future runaway incidents, Murphy is optimistic, he said.

"That's my hope," he said. "It would help me sleep better at night, believe me."

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or

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