The Repository @ St. Cloud State

Open Access Knowledge and Scholarship

Date of Award


Culminating Project Type


Degree Name

Educational Administration and Leadership, K-12: Ed.D.


Educational Administration and Higher Education


School of Education

First Advisor

Frances Kayona

Second Advisor

John Eller

Third Advisor

Kay Worner

Fourth Advisor

Janine Dahms-Walker

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Keywords and Subject Headings

Juvenile correctional program; relationship-based programing; wilderness programs; juvenile justice; residential juvenile correctional programs


This is an historical analysis of a specialized residential Minnesota youth program, Thistledew Camp, governed by the Minnesota Department of Corrections and approved by Minnesota Department of Education. This program served at risk youth ages 13-17 (age 18 if they had a birthday while at the camp) who were court ordered to the program because of behaviors, truancy, or probationary violations. Additionally, some students were placed in the facility by social services or their families because they were chemically dependent youth in need of addiction counseling services. The students assigned, or court ordered to the Thistledew Camp facility, were taught essential skills to meet both societal and legal expectations in their educational and personal lives. Even though this is chronicling the history of a single small Department of Corrections program for juveniles, it is important in contributing to the research regarding best practices for juvenile justice and examining non-punitive, relationship based programing for disenfranchised youths.

The timeframe for the research is from 1955 to 2015. Thistledew Camp was originally established as a Youth Conservation Commission (YCC) to teach the logging trade to trouble males ages 19 to 21. Upon its closing, it was servicing juveniles ages 13-17 who had problems with truancy, chemical dependency, and behavioral issues. The study chronicles the changes in programs, funding, and the age group it serviced until 2015 when the Department of Corrections closed the juvenile programs to expand the Challenge Incarcerated Program (CIP) which created more bed space for adult males.

The literature review analyzes global, regional, and local juvenile justice systems. It also examines special education ties to juvenile delinquency and truancy. A historical look at Outward Bound which influenced the Wilderness Challenge portion of the Thistledew Program is reviewed. Analysis of the archive materials and discussions were chronicled for dates and important events throughout the formation of the program. Various studies that were conducted by the Department of Corrections were gathered and reviewed.

The major influencing factors regarding the development of Thistledew’s programs were the following: lack of education or illiterate youth; so an educational program was established and grew to include special educational services, credit recovery, and GED testing. Many of the juveniles needed chemical dependency counseling; due to their addiction, many of the juveniles made poor choices or demonstrated a lack of judgement. Drug and alcohol counselors were hired on staff and chemical dependency programs were created. Initially, there was no trust between staff and the incarcerated youth which created barriers to the juveniles’ learning and understanding of the negative criminal thinking which brought them to Thistledew; cognitive skills, wilderness programs, and relationship building through activities and open communication created a foundation of trust. This opened the door to a willingness for the juveniles to try new experiences. Character building and personal confidence of the delinquent youths was reinforced through the Wilderness Challenge Program. Finally, Thistledew’s Program was examined and proposed to be cut to save $300,000 annually in the Department of Corrections budget in 1972-1973. An emergency senate committee meeting was called and funding resources were established, making the juvenile program self-sufficient.



Thistledew Camp in Togo, Minnesota opened as a logging camp under the Youth Conservation Commission (YCC) in 1955 to train 19 to 21-year-old delinquent males a trade. Overtime, their mission changed. Thistledew Camp evolved into a relationship-based correctional facility for juveniles ages 13-17/18-year-olds which was funded self-sufficiently. Thistledew Camp had drug and alcohol addiction treatment services/counselors; an academic credit recovery program as well as GED testing; the first wilderness program in the United States for corrections which had multiple program offerings; and they had the adult Challenge Incarceration Program (CIP) for women, which later became a program for males when the women’s program was moved to the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Shakopee, Minnesota. Thistledew Camp operated for 60 years servicing delinquent youth and teaching them an alternative life style to violence, gang activity, drugs, alcohol, and academic failure. Over the course of 60 years, thousands of young men partook in the residential and wilderness programs; and hundreds of young women participated in the three-week Wilderness Challenge program.

In 2015, all the juvenile programs in Thistledew Camp were terminated. This transpired due to lack of bed-space for the adult males in the Minnesota facilities and state-wide budget crunches. Thistledew Camp was repurposed to be one of two male CIP sites for the Department of Corrections. The other CIP site is in Willow River, Minnesota. The last brigade of the juvenile males marched across the grounds headed to the final graduation to be held at the facility in June, 2015.



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