The Case-Closing Project: an evaluation of BARJ in Pennsylvania
By Angeline Spain | email@example.com
The Case-Closing Project evaluation, conducted by the Pennsylvania-based National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ), looks at outcomes of balanced and restorative justice (BARJ) programs in 13 counties in Pennsylvania. BARJ programs seek to provide the victim, the community, and offender “balanced attention” and address community protection, offender accountability, and the development of competencies.
The Lancaster Area Victim Offender Project (LAVORP) in Lancaster County is one example of the BARJ approach at work. Through LAVORP, the victim and the youth offender meet to discuss the consequences of the crime, agree on the amount to be paid as restitution, and how it will be repaid. The means for earning restitution are selected to develop the youth’s competencies and skills. This can take the shape of working at a local recycling project while attending school, learning construction skills through building low-income housing, and other community-based activities.
Developing Outcome Measures for the Case-Closing Project
NCJJ set out to identify measures and create an evaluation plan for the Case-Closing Project pilot evaluation. To this end, information on BARJ programs and court and probation performance was gathered from juvenile justice staff and additional representatives from the juvenile justice system through site visits and surveys.
The final measures developed by NCJJ for the Case-Closing project were designed to be easy to understand, easy to collect, and easy to quantify. Measures concentrate on concrete individual case-level information gathered at the end of a youth’s involvement with the court. For each youth, the probation officer assigned to the case completes a three page Case-Closing Report Form designed to answer the question, “Were the court’s objectives achieved?”
Gathering these data consistently on the selected measures at case-closing ensures the progress being made towards the BARJ goals of community protection, offender accountability, and competency development, can be compared across counties longitudinally. Once these data are consistently collected, these data can be used to measure performance, assess effectiveness, and demonstrate ongoing progress towards BARJ goals.
Findings from the Case-Closing Project
The most recent findings of the Case-Closing Project pilot-test, as described in the January 2004 issue of Pennsylvania Progress, involve the collection and analysis of court-intervention outcome data in 13 Pennsylvania counties in 2002-03. The participating counties collected court outcomes based on specific benchmark measures at the end of the youth’s involvement with the court system.
For the period from January 2, 2002 to November 30, 2003, the aggregate data consists of 3,374 closed cases. Data analysis shows overall positive outcomes for the court’s work. For the community protection BARJ goal, 87% of cases closed without an adjudication. Looking at the accountability BARJ goal, 92% of youths completed all of the assigned community service. Regarding the competency development BARJ goal, 77% of youths were attending school, working on a G.E.D., or employed when their cases closed.
An unexpected benefit of the project is that routine goal-directed performance measurement has concentrated staff efforts on fulfilling BARJ goals. Internal reports based on outcome data are used to show staff performance, and are useful for local planning and administration decision-making. Washington County’s Juvenile Probation Department, for example, uses their outcome data to create individual reports by judge, supervisor, and probation officer, which are used in the needs-based planning and budgeting process.
Currently, participation in the Case-Closing Project is being expanded to include 30 counties (some outside of Pennsylvania), due to the new Juvenile Justice Outcome Measures Initiative that requires all Pennsylvania counties submit quarterly juvenile justice outcome data to the Juvenile Court Judges Commission (JCJC) beginning in January 2004. The goal of this initiative is to use data in an ongoing assessment of performance measures for the effectiveness of BARJ. The outcome measures for this initiative are based on the measures developed by NCJJ for the Case-Closing Project, but the total number of measures is fewer. Outcome data will be reported through the Pennsylvania Juvenile Case Management System.
For further information on the Case-Closing Project and other Pennsylvania juvenile justice achievements, see Pennsylvania Progress: http://www.pccd.state.pa.us/pccd/cwp/view.asp?a=1389&Q=569873&pccdPNavCtr=|33192|#33198
Published June 2004