New Berkshire sheriff program to dislodge Juvenile Resource Center


PITTSFIELD -- The alternate education programs of the Juvenile Resource Center will have to find new quarters, but school officials say that could present more of an opportunity than a problem.

Berkshire County Sheriff Thomas Bowler has informed the Pittsfield school system that his department will need the space the JRC occupies at the former House of Correction building on Second Street for a new program.

He stressed, however, that "We intend to continue our partnership with [the school system] at the new location."

Four separate programs are offered at the center, serving about 75 students on average, according to Kristen Williams, director of the JRC. The largest program is for 11th- and 12th-graders at risk of dropping out, she said, with about 40 students.

Other programs include one-on-one tutoring for those who for medical or other issues cannot attend class; an alternative education program for students who have been suspended from school for more than one day, and an education program for students with behavioral issues or life difficulties affecting their performance in school.

But the sheriff is planning to establish a pre-release center for House of Correction inmates at the old jail building, providing services and a place to live for those who are beginning to work and will soon re-enter society.

The facility, which he said will open in mid-summer or early fall, would be similar to pre-release facilities associated with most other houses of correction in the state.

"Most other sheriff's departments in the commonwealth have this type of facility," Bowler said.

Schools Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless informed the School Committee this week that his administration is actively seeking space in one or more buildings for the JRC programs, beginning in September.

The center, which has operated at the former jail for more than a decade, has some programs that might be operated within a traditional school setting, McCandless said, adding that the administration will re-assess all the programs to determine what changes or updates should be implemented.

McCandless and School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon said they believe that, while finding new program space could prove a challenge, moving will have the positive effect of a change of scene.

Both said the programs have been beneficial to students at risk of dropping out of school and/or with behavioral or other issues, but "the bottom line is it's a former jail," in Yon's words.

She and McCandless noted that the NAACP recently was critical of the higher percentage of minority students who wind up at the center, rather than in a normal classroom.

"This is a new opportunity to do this in a different venue," McCandless told committee members.

While a dedicated staff at the center has had many successes in assisting students "who would have been expelled in any other school system," it "sends the wrong message to have the program there," he said.

Yon said the JRC budget totals about $390,000, including both school district and Sheriff's Office funds and grant funds. The sheriffs provide security and other services for the center.

Kristen Behnke, assistant superintendent for business and finance in the school system, said that anyone who believes they have space for center programs should contact her office at (413) 499-9502.

To reach Jim Therrien:, or (413) 496-6247. On Twitter: @BE_therrien


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