The Evolution of Juvenile Justice: Community-Based Partnerships through Balanced and Restorative Justice
DeAngelo, Andrew J., Corrections Today
Author's Note: Juvenile Probation services in Lehigh County, Pa., have evolved from the traditional approach of having youths report to the county courthouse to see their probation officer to the present-day operation of school and community-based probation services. Although this article speaks specifically about Lehigh County initiatives, there are many Pennsylvania counties that have developed similar practices and programs.
In the summer of 1990, representatives of the Lehigh County Juvenile Probation Department and the Allentown School District in Pennsylvania met to discuss methods to improve communication and better handle problematic juvenile probationers enrolled in the Allentown School District. From this collaboration came the development of school-based probation.
A three-year state grant was secured that provided funding for two additional probation officers who would be physically located in the middle schools of the district so they could interact more with their clients and be accessible to deal with any problems that arose. The daily routine of the school-based probation officer was designed to address issues that presented problems within the school building, maintain an advocacy role with the youths, participate in student assistance programs, participate in reentry conferences and maintain contact with the youth's family.
One of the most unique services that was developed as a result of the collaboration between school and probation officials was the Out of School Suspension Work Program. When a probation student is suspended from school, he or she is assigned to community service for the duration of the suspension.
In 1997, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency contracted with David Metzger of the University of Pennsylvania to conduct an in-depth evaluation of school-based probation services. The following information is based on Metzger's 1997 report, School Based Probation in Pennsylvania.
A case control study found that school-based probation cases had significantly more time in the community without criminal charges and placements, and were significantly less likely to be charged with serious new crimes. When it was necessary for placement, school-based probation cases had significantly fewer days in placement. Placement cost savings projected at that time amounted to $6,665 for every case assigned to a school-based probation officer. Surveys of the probation officers, teachers and students involved with the school-based probation program found it to be effective in increasing school attendance and academic performance, and improving behavior in and out of the school environment.
As a result of the success of school-based probation, officials of the juvenile probation department felt that the department could be even more effective by increasing its presence in the Lehigh County communities. Citizen involvement was solicited to aid in the department's work and in 1997, the department established a restructuring process to move most of the probation officers out of the courthouse and into the schools and the community. At that time, Balanced and Restorative Justice had been enacted into law in Pennsylvania. This new concept addressed the priority of repairing the harm done to victims and the community while still ensuring that the needs of the young offenders were met. Under the balanced and restorative justice plan, the juvenile probation department would provide services designed to address the areas of community safety, holding youths accountable for their actions and arranging for youths to participate in competency-development activities.
Court and Community Involvement
In order to ensure a coordinated effort of the department's personnel, committees were formed to address and develop services for victims, the community and the offenders. In addition, a steering committee was formed comprised of representatives from various public organizations and the judicial departments to guide the process. …