On an unseasonably cool recent summer morning, new Portland police officers got their hands dirty to learn more about Multnomah County’s work with juvenile offenders who grow crops as part of their restitution requirements.
About 20 newly hired and newly sworn officers and a half-dozen juvenile offenders worked together on July 27, along with Commissioner Diane McKeel and her staff, to weed and clear vegetable beds in the Restitution Garden adjacent to the county’s Community Reaps Our Produce and Shares (CROPS) farm in Troutdale.
That gardening work capped a four-day session in which the new officers learned all about Multnomah County’s community corrections. Such multi-day sessions are regularly conducted as part of the System Integration & Resource Network (SIRN) collaboration between the county’s Department of Community Justice and the new officers.
But the gardening in Troutdale on the overcast Friday morning last week marked the first time the collaboration went out to the Restitution Garden.
Sidney Morgan, community works leader in DCJ’s Juvenile Services Division, and Portland police training Lt. Dave Virtue said that new collaboration in the Restitution Garden benefits both the officers and the young men and women.
“This opens everybody’s eyes,” said Morgan, who supervises work crews of juvenile offenders that work regularly in the garden.
The crops grown from the juvenile offenders’ garden is sold as part of the offenders’ restitution requirements.
On Aug. 10, 17, 24 and 31, for example, the food will be sold outside New Seasons at its farmers’ market outside its Cedar Hills Crossing store. The food is also sold in the Courtyard Cafe at the county’s Donald E. Long Juvenile Detention Home.
“We teach kids how to grow vegetables, harvest them and sell them,” said Dan Bravin, food program coordinator in the county’s Office of Sustainability.
The CROPS site also grows healthy and much-needed food that’s donated for low-income county residents.
One of the juvenile offenders -- a 17-year-old girl -- who was weeding next to the new police officers on July 27 talked openly about how her probation resulted from her own “bad choices.”
She said she had to overcome some skepticism about working outdoors. That said, she has come to appreciate working in the garden as a “safe place.”
“We’re hands-on,” she said. “It’s not something I’d ever done before but a lot of us kids enjoy coming here.”
Morgan said that’s the kind of transformation the county seeks to achieve in the garden.
“They are being held accountable for what they’ve done,” Morgan said. “They take ownership and their attitude changes.”