2018 Capstone of the Year

Pine County, Minnesota, School-Justice Partnerships Certificate Program

The Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR) at the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy is excited to announce that the Pine County, Minnesota School-Justice Partnerships Certificate Program Team has been awarded the 2018 Capstone of the Year Award.

The Pine County team is composed of leaders from the East Central Public Schools, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Probation, Health and Human Services, and the County Attorney’s Office. Through its Capstone Project, the Pine County team collaborated to design a comprehensive reform effort that addresses truancy and disciplinary practices issues in schools. With the explicit goals of reducing school-based referrals into the juvenile justice system, increasing student attendance rates, and decreasing the number of youth crossing over from the child welfare system into the juvenile justice system, the team created Project RISE (Restorative Investment for Student Empowerment) to achieve better outcomes for youth and families in Pine County.

Centered on aligning services and system practices, the team’s efforts to launch Project RISE included several key components. First, the team embedded a restorative approach in its New Direction program, an alternative to school suspension/expulsion in the county. Instead of sending students home for misbehavior, the New Direction program holds youth accountable for their actions while providing academic and behavioral support. Moreover, the team partnered with the community to limit the collateral impacts of juvenile justice involvement. As a result of this partnership, truancy court hearings are now held in schools and on the Mille Lacs Band Reservation to minimize school disruption. The team also obtained funding to hire a cultural community coach and a school-based American Indian Liaison was obtained to provide additional support for tribal youth. Currently, they are working to create a Pine County Evening Reporting Center (ERC) to provide culturally sensitive wraparound services for pre-trial and post-adjudication youth within the community. Finally, the team revised discipline policies to shift staff responses to students’ problem behaviors. The development of an objective graduated response tool, implementation of home visits, creation of a tiered intervention approach to truancy, and trauma-informed and cultural competency trainings are just a few examples of the discipline policy reforms.

Additionally, Pine County introduced a pre-charge diversion process that links youth to the C-5 Victim-Offender Conferencing program in lieu of formal system involvement. This has been a centerpiece of Project RISE. Juveniles get referred to C5 either pre-charge or as a condition of probation. Youth who complete the program successfully do not become involved in the justice system. The ultimate goal is to place kids on a positive track to becoming productive and contributing members of the community. On average, about 97 percent of youth involved in the C5 program successfully completed the program.

Project RISE promotes a proactive, restorative team approach to working with youth and their families by collaborating across youth-serving agencies and communities. Although the Pine County team has only been implementing Project RISE for about two years, it has already shown a positive impact. The cultural community coach has made contact with over 900 youth, with a focus on student’s at-risk behaviors and truancy. The New Direction program served over 200 youth in the 2017 – 2018 school year, with an attendance rate of approximately 97 percent. One prominent outcome as a result of these efforts is the significant drop in high school truancy rate at the pilot schools, which decreased almost 30 percent. The truancy rate for 9th to 12th graders, on average, went from approximately 43 percent in the 2016 – 2017 school year to 15 percent in 2017-2018. We congratulate the Pine County, Minnesota Capstone team and look forward to their ongoing efforts to improve the well-being of youth in their community!

The Capstone team members include:
• Andrew Almos, Superintendent, East Central Public Schools
• Carla Big Bear, Office Manager, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe
• Terry Fawcett, Probation Director, Pine County Probation
• Rebecca Foss, Director, Pine County Health and Human Services
• Reese Frederickson, County Attorney, Pine County Attorney’s Office
• Stefanie Youngberg, Principal, East Central Public Schools

Background on the Capstone of the Year Award

The Capstone of the Year Award recognizes the Certificate Program participant or team who has made the most significant progress through their Capstone Project by promoting the well-being of youth through multi-system approaches in their community. All CJJR Fellows are eligible to receive the award, regardless of the year of their Certificate Program participation. The winner of the award receives a personalized team plaque and is awarded free tuition and travel for one person to attend a future CJJR Certificate Program of their choosing.

First awarded in March 2012, this award serves to honor and recognize the success, innovation, and tremendous work of CJJR Fellows through their Capstone Project reform efforts. Over the past few years, we have been able to honor teams and individuals for their work on a wide variety of topics. In 2012, we highlighted Peter Forbes and Lisa Belmarsh’s work to improve outcomes for crossover youth in Massachusetts by focusing on the detention decision point. Leah Panuzzo’s 2014 Capstone of the Year project expanded early identification and treatment services to prevent youth from entering the delinquency system in San Diego, California. In 2015, Kathleen Sande’s was recognized for her Education Advocate Program, which bolstered education services as part of a youth’s re-entry process in Washington State. In 2016, the Fairfax County, Virginia team’s Capstone Project facilitated the implementation of structured decision-making tools and the expansion of their community diversion program. Most recently, the North Carolina Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians team was awarded 2017 Capstone of the Year for building an integrated juvenile justice and child welfare system for their tribe youth and families.

The Pine County, Minnesota Team participated in the 2017 School-Justice Partnerships Certificate Program – a weeklong program designed to provide youth-serving agency leaders with innovative and evidence-based solutions that address the immediate and long-term needs of students known to, or at risk of entering, the juvenile justice system. The purpose of the program is to unite current and future leaders and provide them the knowledge and tools to work across systems, cultivate their leadership skills, improve the operation of their organizations, and create a network of individuals across the country committed to systems improvement and reform. Upon completion of the Certificate Program, participants become CJJR Fellows by designing and implementing a Capstone Project to improve outcomes for youth in their jurisdiction. CJJR currently has over 1100 Fellows that benefit from ongoing technical assistance and inclusion in a growing network of mutually supportive leaders across the country.