An education program for juvenile offenders in Washington County is coming to an end after a run of 35 years.
Through a partnership between the county’s Community Corrections department and the South Washington County School District, the PLACE (People Learning a Cooperative Existence) Program was designed to help youths under juvenile court supervision who are considered high risks to reoffend.
But now the school district has decided to stop funding the program at the end of the school year. The district has a wider array of services for students with behavior problems than it did before — social workers, counselors, behavior specialists — as well as alternative schools as an option.
“We had a conversation with [Community Corrections] to say we value this program but for the small amount of students in it actually from South Washington, we just wouldn’t be able to fund it,” said Michelle Barries, the district’s director of special services. “We have to evaluate that cost effectiveness even though it’s a great program.”
The decision to dissolve PLACE was a mutual one between corrections and the school district, said Ren Clinton, division manager with Community Corrections.
“I’ve seen a lot of programs come and go for juvenile youth, but the PLACE program did stand the test of time,” he said.
In addition to academic programming, PLACE provides life-skills training, physical education, family support services and drug testing.
“Twenty years ago, it was one of the only options for kids struggling in school and on probation,” Clinton said. “That’s just not the case anymore.”
Over the years, Community Corrections sought various partners for PLACE, including other school districts and nonprofits. Like many of those partners, the South Washington district was concerned about providing resources for the program long-term, Barries said.
On average, PLACE serves about eight to 10 students at a time, typically for about six months. Those students come from all of Washington County’s school districts.
The county provides the program site in Cottage Grove and food and transportation for the students, and commits one full-time probation officer to PLACE. The district provides one full-time teacher and one full-time life skills coordinator for the program.
Community Corrections plans to implement more after-school and summer programs for the same population of youths served by PLACE.
“When we let the school use their resources to take care of the academic pieces with these kids, we can do a better job of services during those critical after-school times when most recidivism occurs,” Clinton said. “We’re confident that this decision will actually be better for kids on probation.”