The Berks County Juvenile Probation Office is an arm of the Juvenile Court of the 23rd Judicial District of Pennsylvania. The majority of referrals are received from the police departments charging youth, ages 10-17, with delinquent acts. The Juvenile Probation Office is responsible for holding offenders accountable by monitoring and enforcing Court orders and probation plans. At any given time, on average, the Juvenile Probation Office supervises approximately 450 youth, countywide. Probation officers are assigned to each school district in the County and serve not only as the liaison for each school in the district, but in the corresponding communities as well. The Berks County Juvenile Probation Office offers a wide range of programs and services for youth and their families.
The current PA Juvenile Justice System Enhancement Strategy (JJSES) 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.
Since the adoption of the JJSES back in 2010, the Berks County Juvenile Probation Office has been able to use these evidenced-based practices to decrease the number of youth on juvenile probation, the number of youth entering secure detention and the number of youth entering out of home residential placement. We’ve also been able to significantly reduce recidivism with those we supervise. Recidivism for Berks County youth, defined as a youth found to have committed a subsequent offense 2 years after case closure, has decreased from 20% for cases closed in 2010 to 13% for cases closed in 2018. This is the lowest recidivism rate for all 3rd Class counties in Pennsylvania. As a result of reducing recidivism and lowering the number of youth penetrating the juvenile justice system, we are spending $4.5 million less than we spent in 2010. A significant savings to the taxpayers of Berks County. Our goal when working with youth is to instill in them long term behavior change. To have them held accountable for offenses committed, repair harm done to the victim and the community and to teach them skills so once their case is closed, they become productive members of the community.
Evidence Based Practices
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.
In 2016, the department began using the Massachusetts Youth Screening Instrument (MAYSI-2). The MAYSI-2 is a mental health screening instrument administered to youth to identify whether they may be experiencing mental or emotional difficulties that may require immediate attention or further evaluation. Information obtained through the MAYSI-2 may be helpful in designing case plans that account for responsivity issues that may affect a youth’s ability to successfully achieve goals in the youth’s case plan.
In 2018, Effective Practices in Community Supervision (EPICS) began in the department. EPICS is a structured tool for community supervision officers. This evidence-based practice focuses on officers using researched interventions with youth. Using a collaborative relationship, officers teach youth problem solving, skill-building, and cognitive restructuring.
In 2019, the department began to administer the Child Trauma Screen (CTS) at the intake stage. The CTS is intended to be used as a very brief, empirically-based screen for child traumatic stress. The first goal of the CTS is to identify youth who are likely to be suffering from trauma exposure and who would benefit from being referred for a more comprehensive trauma-focused assessment, by a trained clinician. The second goal of the CTS is to function as an engagement tool to allow professionals working with the youth to briefly discuss the youth’s exposure to trauma and trauma related reactions, and to support the youth and their caregiver.