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Sustaining Models for Change Initiatives Through Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Justice System Enhancement Strategy

Pennsylvania has a long history of working to improve its juvenile justice system through sustained leadership, strong partnerships at both the state and local levels, and cooperation with both public and private sector service providers. In 2004, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation selected Pennsylvania as the first state in the country to participate in its Models for Change initiative, engaging nearly all components of Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system.

Pennsylvania’s Models for Change reform efforts focused on three “targeted areas of improvement” that included coordinating the mental health and juvenile justice systems, improving aftercare services and supports for youth and their families, and addressing disproportionate minority contact within the juvenile justice system. Models for Change enhanced and accelerated Pennsylvania’s reform efforts at both the state and local levels, and supported various evidence-based practices such as use of screening and assessment instruments. A number of juvenile probation departments began working toward implementing a valid and reliable risk/needs instrument, developing a case plan to address the identified risk and needs, and providing targeted evidence-based interventions. 

In 2010, with the five-year commitment of the MacArthur Foundation drawing to a close, it was agreed that a new “Juvenile Justice System Enhancement Strategy” (JJSES) was needed, both to consolidate the innovations of the previous five years “under one roof”, and to develop strategies to sustain, disseminate and enhance those efforts. Pennsylvania’s JJSES rests on two interlinked foundations: the best empirical research available in the field of juvenile justice and a set of core beliefs about how to put this research into practice. 

The following statement of purpose was developed for the Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice System Enhancement Strategy:

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

Six regional Juvenile Justice System Enhancement Strategy (JJSES) planning sessions have been scheduled throughout the Commonwealth this Spring. Juvenile court judges, chief juvenile probation officers, juvenile probation supervisors, district attorneys, defenders, detention center administrators, juvenile justice service providers, victim service providers, and law enforcement officials are all being encouraged to attend. A component of these one-day planning sessions will include information regarding evidence-based practices that pertains to both the criminal and juvenile justice systems.

Pennsylvania’s JJSES will help to ensure that the lessons, strategies and best practices developed through Models for Change will be sustained and adopted as part of their comprehensive statewide reform plan, greatly enhancing juvenile justice outcomes in the years to come.