Advancing a Well-being Framework in Philadelphia's Youth Justice System

Stoneleigh Fellow: Naomi Goldstein, 2014-2019

Project Summary

The Philadelphia juvenile justice system is currently involved in a number of efforts to reform the system, including participating in the decade-old Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI). The diverse stakeholders are interested in promoting a system of graduated responses for youth supervised by probation, which can offer juvenile justice officials a wide array of tools to address the complex behaviors of youth in their system. 

Naomi Goldstein, PhD, an applied researcher and educator, will collaborate with Philadelphia’s Juvenile Probation Department to develop an empirically-based approach to promoting positive behaviors among youth that will be implemented system-wide.  Building on the current reform work in Philadelphia and in collaboration with community stakeholders, Naomi will develop, implement, and evaluate a graduated response approach to probation case management and expand empirically-based reform initiatives that supplement and enhance the capacity of youth to successfully complete probation. 

Scope of the Problem

Although approximately 60% of delinquent youth initially receive formal probation as their most severe disposition, many fail to comply with probation requirements.  A recent study of Philadelphia youth on probation found that 52% of juveniles failed to comply with the terms of their probation dispositions, and 48% of youth in the study were committed to a juvenile correctional facility after probation.  With only half of Philadelphia youth completing probation -- a proportion consistent with national statistics -- justice involved youth in Philadelphia are still subject to incarceration at troubling and avoidable rates.  With the negative impacts of incarceration on youth well documented, there is a critical need to both prevent them from entering placement and, for those that must be placed, apply interventions that research has demonstrated are effective with adolescents.

In their collective goal to reduce rates of detention and promote alternatives to incarceration, juvenile justice leaders in the city agree that change is needed to promote well-being outcomes and have identified probation as key to beginning this transformation.  Developing and implementing a system-wide graduated response approach to juvenile probation case management is critical to reform efforts.  The approach involves developing a range of responses to both youth compliance and noncompliance with terms of their supervision.  Sanctions are based on the seriousness of a specific violation and the youth’s risk level.  Equally as important, to encourage compliance with probation and enhancement of positive behaviors, youth are rewarded for meeting goals.  Additionally, research shows that when community-based juvenile justice programming is done well, it can be a powerful factor in promoting youths’ completion of probation and long-term success.  As such, effective graduated response builds upon resources available locally to promote positive behaviors such as referral to effective community-based programming.

Fellowship Project

Naomi Goldstein will draw upon empirical findings on adolescents’ decision-making processes, best practices in juvenile justice and input from local experts to advance reforms that foster well-being and enhance youths’ abilities to successfully complete probation.  The project has three focus areas:  1) coordinate city and state efforts to implement graduated response programming, 2) develop trainings for Philadelphia juvenile probation officers and system professionals, and 3) explore community-based services and programs to which youth on probation are frequently referred.  Ultimately the fellowship project aims to improve outcomes for youth who are referred to the justice system. By better understanding the status quo, the service gaps, and the indicators for positive youth outcomes, Naomi will help the system better serve these children with programming and responses that have proven to be most effective.