Driving down I-5 through Lewis County, most people notice the intimidating razor wire-topped fence around the Green Hill School in Chehalis. The current Superintendent, Jennifer Redman, wants you to know the good that happens behind the fence. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jennifer and even witnessed the youth in action during a national Emerging Leaders Committee call.

Redman was first introduced to juvenile justice at Green Hill School as an intern while she attended Centralia College. It was her psychology professor, Dr. Heeson Jun who helped her get into the internship and that was when Redman realized her love for working with incarcerated youth.

Green Hill School
Redman receives Barbara Allen-Hagen Award in 2019 for reducing isolation and confinement and consequently reducing the number of staff assaults and high-level incidents. Photo courtesy: DCYF

Upon graduation from college, she started working at Green Hill School in 1995. Years later to gain more experience, Redman transferred to Maple Lane School, a former rehabilitation school for individuals with mental illnesses. There, she worked in multiple positions including as a sex offender treatment coordinator. Later, moving to a position in juvenile parole in Tacoma allowed her to see the challenges of the area that many of the Green Hill residents call home. Redman also gained insight by working as administrative support for institution programs statewide before returning to Green Hill.

As superintendent, Redman’s goals are simple — have staff and residents that are happy and healthy. Her plan to provide an environment supporting those goals comes with lots of challenges. A difficult population of youth who often experienced high levels of trauma and challenges in their lives tends to bring a wealth of issues with them. The staff must manage behaviors and teach skills on how to navigate what the residents have experienced. Youth responses to their past can lead to incidents that can be traumatizing to staff.

Redman believes that offering training and resources, providing adequate staffing and appropriate compensation for staff leads to lower turnover rates. With those goals not yet achieved to the level she wishes; Redman continues to lobby for those changes. With skilled and invested staff comes an opportunity to offer a level of stability to the youth, creating a safer and healthier environment for all.

Green Hill School
The school first opened on June 10, 1891, as the Washington State Reform School for youth ages 8 to 18 who committed crimes or were orphaned. Photo courtesy: Chehalis School District

Already Green Hill School is following new studies and providing the training to staff for programs that benefit the youth. In 2019, Green Hill School was awarded the Barbara Allen-Hagen Award for reducing room confinement and isolation. The national recognition reflects a reduction in assaults on staff and higher-level incidents across campus. This shift in culture is a huge win.

JR-25 legislation allowing minors convicted in adult court to stay in the state juvenile corrections system until they turn 25, rather than being transferred to prison when they turn 21, changed the dynamics for youth and staff as well. Working alongside lobbyists to testify for the legislation was a group of Green Hill youth. These changes align with research by the U.S. Department of Justice National Institute of Corrections showing youth transferred to adult prisons are more likely to re-offend after their release. With some youth being allowed to serve their adult sentences in the juvenile system, they can get into age-appropriate and better-tailored rehabilitation programs.

Green Hill School
Residents pose in front of their tiny house construction project. Photo courtesy: DCYF

Those programs include the expansion and funding of more post-secondary education programs, vocational opportunities, as well as high school and special education programs. A partnership with Centralia College will allow residents the opportunity to pursue an associate degree. Evergreen State College currently offers peer learning, which provides a unique opportunity for mentoring both ways between students. Still in the pilot phase, Pack Mountain Workforce Development Counsel helps fund a pre-apprenticeship construction program for residents. They teach various skills in the construction realm and had the youth design and build a tiny house for a homeless housing project in Olympia.

Campus employment is offered for resume building, as well as soft work skills like responsibility, teamwork and accepting instructions. Paychecks and evaluations are done simulating the real workforce. This promotes huge opportunities and skills for juvenile rehabilitation.

There are so many positive programs and stories of youth working hard to make changes and learn skills and degrees to become valuable members of society yet that often gets overshadowed by negative reports. The community’s perception of residents is important to the transition of rehabilitated youth into society and directly impacts the rate of recidivism.

Green Hill School
Staff at Green Hill focus on preparing youth for the transition when released to their community.  Photo courtesy: DCYF

Testifying in front of the legislature, being a part of national youth advocacy and ambassador programs, informing national juvenile justice work and responses, developing staff training, following treatment plans so well they can teach rehabilitation strategies to others, doing school classes, graduating with diplomas and taking college classes are only some of the successes seen in youth behind the fence.

Jennifer Redman would like the community to be aware of the unseen staff wins and transformations of residents. A willingness to see resilience in the population is a start on changing the community’s perception of the youth. The staff is there to help with rehabilitation, providing structure, accountability and imparting life skills, not simply to punish. The work being done at Green Hill School is important and the staff needs the community’s support as much as the residents. Redman is open to communication with the community to help alleviate misconceptions and invites anyone with questions to reach out.

Green Hill School
375 S.W. 11th St.

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