Pennsylvania has long been a leader in juvenile justice reform. The current PA Juvenile Justice System Enhancement Strategy is evidence of the mindset of system reflection and improvement and an emphasis on capacity building. The principles of Balanced and Restorative Justice (BARJ) remain key, with the Enhancement Strategy supporting the achievement of the BARJ goals. Critical to these efforts is the use of evidence-based practices (EBP), data analysis, and an ongoing focus on improving the quality of decisions, services, and programs.
Evidence based practice involves the following:
• Better identification of offender risk, needs and strengths
• Better case planning
• Targeted interventions to address criminogenic risk factors of offenders
• Tracking of both short and long-term outcomes
• BOTTOM LINE: Reduction of risk = reduction in recidivism
Berks County Juvenile Probation took its first major step in embracing EBP in 2006 with the development and implementation of the first Detention Assessment Instrument (DAI) in the State of PA. The DAI is used to guide detention admission decisions, examine risk, and help ensure fundamental fairness. Following the DAI implementation and the realization of the lack of alternatives to secure detention in Berks County, the first Evening Reporting Center in PA (used as an alternative to detention) was developed and opened in December of 2008. Shelter care capacity in Berks was also increased.
In August of 2007, the Court began to utilize Multisystemic Therapy, an evidence based practice. Berks JPO also became involved with the MacArthur Foundation Model’s for Change – Disproportionate Minority Contact efforts in 2006 and this project continued into 2011.
Berks County JPO was one of the first ten counties in PA to utilize the Youth Level of Service/Case Management Inventory™ (YLS/CMI) which is a risk/needs assessment and case management tool which aids in the determination of the overall level of risk to recidivate and identify areas of criminogenic risk and need as well as strengths. Use of the YLS/CMI provides key information that contributes to a better link between these factors and case planning and targeted interventions to reduce risk.
In addition to receiving training on the YLS/CMI in 2009/2010, Probation Officers attended two trainings with Mark Carey in November of 2010 and January of 2011. Mr. Carey is a nationally known expert who provides training and technical assistance to criminal and juvenile justice agencies at the federal, state and local levels in the area of evidence-based decision-making.
Berks County Juvenile Probation Officers are also being trained in the use of Motivational Interviewing (MI). MI was developed to help people with behavior changes in their lives. MI is a means of communication designed to mobilize an individual’s internal desire for change and to resolve ambivalence for continued change. Compliance to supervision requirements has long been a focus of the juvenile justice system. While this is critical, it does not necessarily translate to long term change. Having a juvenile successfully fulfill the terms of supervision while also recognizing the importance of changing behavior, thinking and attitudes helps reduce the probability of future criminal activities.
Other ongoing EBP work in Berks County includes involvement in several statewide committees working on the PA Juvenile Justice System Enhancement Strategy, continued MI training, development of a graduated responses protocol and a dispositional matrix, implementation of a new case plan, better measurement of outcomes, and continued focus on improving assessment, planning and services to target and address criminogenic needs. In addition, Berks JPO and PA Juvenile Justice leaders, along with teams from Florida, Connecticut, and Arizona, are working with Georgetown University’s Center for Juvenile Justice Reform on the Juvenile Justice System Improvement Project, which began in 2011.