Much has changed since the late ‘60s in education, in youth detention and in Central Oregon, and J Bar J has changed with it. The ranch work that would help kids find employment in late-‘60s rural Oregon has shifted toward vocational training for in-demand jobs. Accreditation agencies younger than the ranch itself are becoming more and more important for schools to maintain a good standing, a feat J Bar J recently accomplished by becoming certified by the national Council on Accreditation.
J Bar J’s program is heavily influenced by Criminologists Samuel Yochelson and Stanton Samenow’s book, “The Criminal Personality,” which attempted to trace the factors that led to detention.
“Researchers had gone into prisons, and they said, why do people commit crime? Is it because they grew up in poverty? Is it because their parents had alcohol issues? Or they have drug and alcohol issues? Or is it because their parents were criminals?” Alvstad said. “The first chapter in this three-volumes set, called ‘The Criminal Personality,’ is that the top risk factors for antisocial behavior or criminality is attitudes, values and beliefs and negative peer associations.”
The book informs the facility’s focus on what is called cognitive behavioral work, which attempts to change the attitudes, values and beliefs that lead to criminal behavior. Alvstad said there are two pieces to cognitive behavioral work and the first simply amounts to giving the kids structure to their day. They get up in the morning and clean their room, have breakfast, go to school, eat their lunch, do their homework and in the evening, have group counseling or meet one-on-one with their case manager. Good behavior is rewarded with weekend activities and even eventually moving from shared rooms to private accommodations.
The other piece attempts to teach the kids about thinking errors and tactics people use to avoid taking responsibility. The facility teaches kids to recognize when they’re using blaming, diversions, excuses, minimization, lying and posturing as victims to avoid consequences.
“It really is about to think about how you think, and people are rationalizing bad behavior and harming other people. These guys are in for assaults, burglaries, robberies, all kinds of different offenses, and so this is a shot to turn their lives around and get some skills, and be able to go back into the community and be good parents, good citizens, good students, good employees, good children of their parents,” Alvstad said.
This approach is used throughout J Bar J’s catalog of programs, including a similar program for teen girls called The Academy. Along with that, J Bar J manages Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Oregon, Cascades Youth and Family Center, Grandma’s House and Kindred Connections. In January, J Bar J Youth services was awarded further accreditation from the national Council on Accreditation, after already receiving accreditation as an alternative school through the state of Oregon and through a national accrediting agency called AdvancEd. COA set standards for youth programs across the state and accreditation requires documented improvement to programming called Performance Quality Improvement, or PQI.
“We're going to look at everything from employee surveys to board member surveys. We asked community folks what's needed; we get reviews all over from Department of Human Services to the Oregon Youth Authority to the Federal Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Trafficking and Victims, so we get reviews from a lot of different agencies, but COA is kind of overarching all of it so it all falls under that, and so it was a big process,” Alvstad said.
In total COA accreditation required over 800 documents be submitted and an on-site inspection in the nearly year-long process. The program will constantly seek to self-correct under COA, but Alvstead said the thrust of their program is actually somewhat simple in changing attitudes, values and beliefs of their student residents.
"We’re trying to get back to basics: Take responsibility for yourself, think about how you think." — Stephanie Alvstadtweet this
“I struggle with everything that we put into schools, we say education should be teaching health, education should be teaching values, morals, all of these different things. And education really started out to teach reading, writing and arithmetic,” Alvstad said. “We’re trying to get back to basics: Take responsibility for yourself, think about how you think.”