Blog: Pennsylvania

A Family Guide to Pennsylvania's Juvenile Justice System

Models for Change continues to take a proactive approach to juvenile justice, making sure that families know what to expect if somebody close to them ends up involved in the juvenile justice system. Their publication, “A Family Guide to Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Justice System,” (also available as a PDF download) was developed by the Family Involvement Committee of the Pa Council of Chief Juvenile Probation Officers--a committee of family advocates and juvenile justice practitioners--to help families understand Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system and be better prepared to work closely with juvenile justice staff to promote positive outcomes for justice involved youth.
Pennsylvania’s approach to juvenile justice is itself a model for change--focusing on three main goals aimed at balance and restoration:

Community Protection – The public has the right to safe and secure homes and communities. The juvenile justice system must help the child while keeping the community, including the child and family, safe.

Accountability – When a crime is committed, the child is responsible for the harm caused and should take action to repair the harm and restore the victim and community.

Competency Development – Children should leave the juvenile justice system more capable of living responsibly and productively in the community. Since children are not as developmentally mature as adults, they are given the opportunity to learn to be responsible and competent.

Pennsylvania Teens Advocate for Effective Case Planning in the Juvenile Justice System

Juveniles for Justice, a project of Juvenile Law Center, offers youth in the Philadelphia area who have been involved with the juvenile justice system an opportunity to use their personal experiences to advocate for reform. Each fall, Juveniles for Justice recruits new members, or “Youth Advocates,” who work over the next year to develop and implement an advocacy campaign targeting a specific area of reform within the system.

The 2011-2012 class of Youth Advocates chose to focus on comprehensive case planning. Drawing upon their own experiences in the juvenile justice system, the youth advocated for juvenile probation officers to work with youth to develop a comprehensive plan to help youth succeed during and after their time in the system.

Setting Justice-Involved Youth on the Path to Success Through Career and Technical Training

In 2008, when Jose was released from his nine-month stay in a Pennsylvania residential placement for his auto theft adjudication and returned to Philadelphia, he had a 1 in 10 chance of graduating from high school, according to the Johns Hopkins study, “Unfulfilled Promise.” Without marketable skills, he was likely to join the ranks of the young unemployed, and his chances of landing in prison as an adult were significantly higher than his chances of landing in a family sustaining career.
In four short years a great deal has changed. If Jose were released today from one of the 28 delinquent facilities (including State facilities) that have affiliated with the PA Academic and Career Technical Training Alliance (PACTT), his prospects would be considerably brighter. Indeed, if he doesn’t actually graduate on credits (or get his GED) while in placement, he is much more likely to return to his home high school with a higher literacy level, earned credits and documented career/technical skills aligned with industry expectations. His career/tech skills and earned certifications such as OSHA-10, ServSafe or Microsoft Certification have prepared him for further training and make him attractive to an employer, despite his delinquent record.
The PACTT Alliance grew out of the MacArthur Foundation Models for Change aftercare initiative. Recognizing a significant need for reform of the academic and career preparation that delinquent youths receive in placement, and realizing that no government agency, not the Department of Public Welfare nor the Pennsylvania Department of Education, were monitoring the overall education and career preparation offered in these schools, the Pennsylvania Council of Chief Juvenile Probation Officers sponsored PACTT. I received a Stoneleigh Fellowship to direct this project, the balance of which was funded by grants from the MacArthur and PEW Foundations and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

Pennsylvania's Youth Courts Do More than Restorative Justice

Beginning last winter, I was assisted by several volunteers: lawyers, social workers, law students and an eighth grade teacher, as we struggled against great odds to teach 25-30 eighth graders to operate a youth court. Each Thursday morning, we would enter the classroom as the students waited apprehensively for the lesson plan to begin. We wanted them to participate but often, many were not interested. The children were in an overcrowded classroom due to financial constraints. The class was too hot, the building was noisy and students ran through the halls chasing each other. We learned from the teacher that new students were entering and leaving her class on a weekly basis, and some were shuffled in and out of alternative schools and returning from charter schools which no longer would tolerate their disruptive behavior. However we persevered; though at times I was not sure these students would ever conduct an actual hearing. It was just too disruptive and many of the students seemed unable, or unwilling, to control their behavior. Hardly the kind of students needed to run a youth court.

'Peer Contagion' Influences Criminal Recidivism Among Youth

Location, Location, Location...That’s been a mantra within the business community for years.
Now, new research from Temple University finds that location also plays a role in youth behavior.
Jeremy Mennis, associate professor of geography and urban studies, and Philip Harris, associate professor of criminal justice, examined how “peer contagion” — the influence on juveniles by other juveniles — within a neighborhood setting affects the probability that a youth who has committed a crime will commit another one.
Their findings, reported recently in the Journal of Adolescence, suggest that "spatial contagion" may be at work as well. In fact, the rate of recidivism among youth living nearby a juvenile's residence not only increases the likelihood that youth will re-offend, it can also cause teenage boys to "specialize" in certain types of crime.
"It turns out that contextual forces from a kid's social network create spatial patterns of crime in terms of re-offending rates as well as specializations," said Mennis.
In the past, ideas about dealing with delinquency focused on the individual kids and their particular family situations, said Mennis. "Our work is part of a growing trend across the social sciences to look at how place and context impact individual behavior," he said.

Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency Launches Interactive Website

This morning, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency launched an interactive website to provide the public access to crime-related data from the state's criminal justice agencies. The site is a clearinghouse of sorts for data from various Pennsylvania agencies.
From the press release:

PACrimeStats.Info is a clearinghouse for state and county justice statistics, data trends, and PCCD-funded research and evaluations. Examples of information include general information about crime in specific communities, number of arrests, types of offenses, number of people incarcerated and paroled. The information is free and available to the public.
Data from the state Department of Corrections, the Board of Probation and Parole, the Commission on Sentencing, State Police, the Pennsylvania Justice Network, and Juvenile Court Judges' Commission are available on the site.