The Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University in Washington selected its four departments from applicants representing 30 states.
Berks County’s juvenile probation department is one of four departments nationwide to be selected for a Georgetown University program to find better ways to reduce crime.
“We will be learning whether we are treating kids properly,” said Robert N. Williams, chief juvenile probation officer. “The goal is to treat kids in the community.”
The program costs $225,000 and will be funded by a $175,000 Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency grant and $50,000 from the university.
The three other departments joining Berk’s are Maricopa County, Arizona; Hartford County, Connecticut; and Pinellas County, Florida. On July 31st, the departments will have selected juvenile probation officials training for one year at Georgetown and then return to help implement the programs across their home states.
“This creates opportunities for us to be on the cutting edge,” Williams said. “I am extremely proud that this is going to benefit the kids and families in Berks.”
Court Administrator Stephen A. Weber commended Williams for being selected. “Williams is a leader in statewide juvenile justice,” Weber said. “Because of programs Williams started, Berks has fewer juveniles in costly placements, saving taxpayers millions of dollars.”
Since 2009, Williams said, his office has been using standardized assessments to determine the potential risk of juveniles becoming repeat offenders. “The earlier you identify the high-risk offenders, the better chance you have at keeping them out of the system,” Williams said.
In addition to Williams, Deputy Chief Probation Officer Laurie A. Hague, Probation Officer Daniel C. Heydt, and Judge Scott E. Lash, head of juvenile court, will participate.
Williams said his budget for placing juveniles in community and residential programs was reduced by $2.2 million since 2007 by using less costly community-based programs. He said the residential facilities could cost as much as $500 a day compared to community programs that typically cost $80 a day.
Williams said juveniles have a better chance of succeeding in life if their cases are handled in the juvenile system rather than the adult system. He said he plans to work closely with the Youth Violence and Prevention project, spearheaded by St. Joseph Medical Center, to coordinate efforts to reduce youth violence.
“We see this as a countywide effort to target and identify the kids who need preventive services,” Williams said.
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