Emerging Leader Fellow Justine Fowler and the Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission present results from their project to examine recidivism rates in youth with a criminal history.
The Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission (JCJC) provides leadership, advice, training, and support to enable Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system to achieve its balanced and restorative justice mission. The Commission is legislatively empowered to advise juvenile court judges in all matters pertaining to the proper care and maintenance of delinquent and dependent children, employing evidence-based practices whenever possible, and to compile and publish such statistical data as needed for efficient administration of the juvenile courts.
In November 2010, the JCJC unanimously endorsed a comprehensive strategy, known as the Juvenile Justice System Enhancement Strategy (JJSES), to enhance the capacity of Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system to achieve its mission of balanced and restorative justice. The following is the statement purpose of the JJSES:
We dedicate ourselves to working in partnership to enhance the capacity of Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system to achieve its balanced and restorative justice mission by:
- Employing evidence-based practices, with fidelity, at every stage of the juvenile justice process;
- Collecting and analyzing the data necessary to measure the results of these efforts; and, with this knowledge,
- Striving to continuously improve the quality of our decisions, services and programs.
Key stakeholders concluded that one of the most appropriate ways to evaluate the effectiveness of the JJSES was to examine the recidivism rates of juveniles who have been involved in Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system. After all, “recidivism is the key statistic in determining whether or not criminal justice interventions, from diversion through incarceration, are making a difference in keeping offenders from committing more crimes” (Virginia Department of Justice, 2005). At the initiation of the JJSES, however, there was no systematic mechanism available to track the statewide recidivism rates of juvenile offenders in Pennsylvania within both the criminal and juvenile justice systems once their case closed.
Consequently, the JCJC undertook the current project and developed the methodology and capacity to monitor the statewide recidivism rates of juvenile offenders. The Center for Juvenile Justice Training and Research (CJJT&R), a division of the JCJC, currently collects and maintains delinquency data related to approximately 100,000 juvenile court dispositional records each year through the Pennsylvania Juvenile Case Management System (PaJCMS), and has been doing so for over three decades. The JCJC worked closely with the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC), who collects court data at both the criminal and magisterial district justice levels, for the project.
The current study had two overarching goals. Since the core premise of the JJSES is that recidivism rates can be reduced through the implementation of evidence-based practices, the first goal was to establish a recidivism benchmark against which the JJSES could be measured. The second goal was to examine differences between recidivists and non-recidivists in terms of demographics and other key variables to identify factors related to recidivism in the Pennsylvania juvenile justice system.