With the passage of Act 33 into law in March 1996, Pennsylvania has led other states in being the first to legislate the Balanced Approach to juvenile justice. Therefore, consistent with the public interest, the purpose of the Juvenile Act is "to provide for the care, protection, safety and wholesome mental and physical development of children committing delinquent acts". Programs of supervision, care and rehabilitation, must provide balanced attention to the protection of the community, the imposition of accountability for offenses committed and the development of competencies to enable children to become responsible and productive members of society. A critical guide for the Juvenile Probation Department is to integrate the elements of protection of the community, accountability and competency development into every level of service delivery.
Residents of Lehigh County have a right to a safe and secure community. Decisions made and programs administered by the department should further the security of the community. Therefore, when determining the disposition to recommend to the Juvenile Court concerning a juvenile offender, a conscious effort is made to protect the community's interest.
Juveniles who commit delinquent offenses incur certain responsibilities. First and foremost, they have an obligation to restore their victims by making full restitution. Some juveniles are able to fulfill this responsibility by participating in our restitution program where they perform community service and victims are compensated based on the number of hours worked. Juveniles may be ordered to complete an apology letter to take responsibility for the harm they caused or attend a victim awareness program to gain insight on the impact of crime on victims and communities. Our youth also have an obligation to their communities. Their offenses detract from the overall welfare and health of their communities. Consequently, almost all juveniles are required to perform community service that provides them with the means to give back to their communities. Finally, juveniles under our supervision have an obligation to remain crime free and fulfill the conditions of their supervision. These conditions are tailored to the specific risks and needs that each youth presents. Probation officers utilize graduated sanctions to address a youth's failure to fulfill these conditions.
Juvenile offenders who come before the Lehigh County Juvenile Probation Department and Court should ultimately leave the system more capable of living productively and responsibly in the community than when they were initially referred to the department and the Juvenile Court. Juvenile offenders who come before the Juvenile Court have, by definition, strayed from positive community participation. Therefore, these offenders need education and training to enable them to gain the skills necessary to live productively in the community. Every juvenile receives an individual assessment to determine his or her strengths and weaknesses and to formulate a plan. The department will provide skill development techniques designed to impart positive living, learning, and working skills for juvenile offenders. In addition, treatment programs will be provided for children whose needs are greater than simply the development of living skills.
With Balanced and Restorative Justice as the foundation of the Juvenile Justice System in Pennsylvania, our system is enhanced by efforts to employ evidence based practices at every stage of the process. In our attempt to continuously improve the quality of our decisions, services and programs, we have made a commitment to evaluate the research that indicates we can make smarter, better and fairer decisions based on scientific evidence.
Over the last several years there has been significant research that informed the juvenile justice system on the best practices that have the greatest impact on the risk of re-offending. Better known as the risk-need-responsivity principal; supervision of offenders is best addressed by looking at the risks and needs of the client. Equally important is to evaluate the clients' responsivity, which relates to characteristics of the youth that may increase or decrease the likelihood of a positive response to an intervention strategy.
Evidence based practices starts with the utilization of a good risk-need instrument. Research has shown when the criminogenic needs are addressed effectively; it will have the most impact on changing offender behavior and therefore also protecting the community. The Juvenile Probation Department is using the Youth Level of Service assessment to begin the process of identifying the areas to focus on during supervision. Recognizing that individuals are at various stages of willingness to change, motivational interviewing is also an evidence based practice that probation officers are encouraged to use to increase positive behavior in our clients. Our goal is to assist in effectuating positive changes that will last long after a client is off of supervision. Requiring only compliance of conditions of probation will not make that happen as compliance does not equal change. The Juvenile Probation Officers will then take the identified risk and need areas and employ strategies to match treatment interventions through the development of a solid case plan. As with any good practice, data is then collected, measured and evaluated to continue to improve upon practices and procedures.
Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas, 455 West Hamilton Street, Allentown, PA 18101-1614 • (610) 782-3000