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Washington County closing program for juvenile offenders

As schools add more on-site resources, Washington County's longtime education program for juvenile offenders will close after this school year.

Over the past 35 years, the county's community corrections department has partnered with multiple school districts to provide the PLACE (People Learning A Cooperative Existence) program, which emphasizes cognitive skill development for students under juvenile court supervision. The program's most recent iteration, through South Washington County Schools and the county, serves about 15 students each year. The district provides a full-time teacher, a full-time living skills coordinator and a part-time psychologist, while the county staffs a full-time probation officer.

But over the past few decades, area schools have added resources to the point where the county and district have decided operating the PLACE program is no longer cost-effective, said Michelle Barries, the district's director of special services. In addition to an alternative high school, today's at-risk students have access to behavior specialists, mental health workers, online learning and resource rooms where they learn without leaving their mainstream school.

"I just think it's time for the model we have to be retired," she said.

The full-time teacher and living skills coordinator positions, as well as the part-time psychologist, will be reassigned throughout the district, Barries said.

Meanwhile, the county plans to start a new after-school program for juvenile offenders this fall, said Washington County Community Corrections division manager Ren Clinton.

"We feel if we let schools do their piece with those kids with the resources they have, we're going to be better off targeting the kids who are currently on probation and helping them structure their time during the afternoon, where recidivism is at its highest," he said.

The county also plans adding programming for parents, Clinton said.

"We want to engage the entire family from kind of a systemic approach," he said.