Pennsylvania Academic and Career/Technical Training (PACTT) Project

Stoneleigh Fellow: Candace Putter, 2008-2011

Academic failure and lack of marketable job skills are known pathways to delinquency.  Strengthening these areas increases resistance to delinquency while deficits in them put juveniles at risk for continued involvement in the juvenile justice system. Data from Philadelphia's juvenile justice system show that more than 25 percent of youth who had been in placement were rearrested within six months and about 33 percent were back in placement within a year. Furthermore, rearrests of youth following discharge from placement usually occurred quickly - within the first 90 days.  The most common reason for reoffending involved selling drugs, and experts attribute many of these offenses to the economic motives of youth who see few other practical options.

The education data on these youth are even more disturbing.  A recent study of Philadelphia revealed that 90 percent of juveniles returning to the community from delinquent placement did not graduate from a Philadelphia school.3  Though some of these youth graduate in placement or get a GED, the vast majority simply drop out.  According to one economic analysis, young people who drop out of high school and become involved with criminal activity cost the public an additional $1.7 to $2.3 million each over their lifetimes.4  From both a public safety and financial perspective, the transition of youthful offenders into educated and work-ready youth is a top priority.

Yet several structural factors exist that hamper delinquent youth in Pennsylvania from returning to school and life-sustaining employment following out-of-home placement: 

  • Residential placement school curricula do not consistently and effectively align with local school district curricula, in part because in Pennsylvania there are no uniform graduation requirements and state education standards are interpreted independently by each of 501 local school districts in the state. 
  • Residential facilities admit youth from many different school districts, which further complicates aligning curricula with the graduation requirements that youth must meet when they return home.
  • There is no centralized quality control of the education or job training offered in residential facilities.
  • Communication remains uneven and sometimes non-existent between local school districts and the residential facilities.
  • Career/technical training has been either sporadic or unplanned in most residential facilities. 

These structural factors led Candace to determine that larger systemic reform is necessary to improve the outcomes for delinquent youth in Pennsylvania.

Project Goals

The PACTT is a collaborative, cross-system, and multi-jurisdiction initiative to address factors that hinder delinquent youth from succeeding in school and obtaining employment once they are released from out-of-home placement.  Candace Putter, who has led the effort in Philadelphia to remedy these problems for a single county, has five goals to implement the project on a multi-county, and eventually statewide, level:

  1. Improve the academic and career/technical training provided to youth in delinquent out-of-home placement;
  2. Ensure timely transfer of education records between host facility and home school districts and timely, appropriate placement of youth in both settings;
  3. Ensure academic credit approval/transfer and recognition of career/technical training competencies earned in placement by home school district and community training programs;
  4. Ensure smooth educational and career/technical training continuation following placement; and
  5. Ensure active involvement and collaboration with key state administrative agencies, including PDE, DPW, and the Chiefs of Probation from Allegheny and Philadelphia Counties.

Project Method

Because Philadelphia and Allegheny County youth together represent between 35-40 percent of the state's private residential placements, changing the practices within these influential counties will create a tipping point for statewide reform. Therefore, Candace will focus the first two years of the project on meeting her goals in these two counties.  Candace also chose these two counties because they have already participated in reform efforts and have demonstrated willingness to collaborate with one another and with Candace on further reform. 

During the first two years, Candace proposes to build on methods she created to effect change in the Philadelphia system. These methods include (1) assessing current academic and career training programs, (2) conducting audits of the programs offered at facilities, (3) developing curriculum and training improvement plans and (4) providing training and technical assistance to facilities and schools in implementing these plans. Further collaboration with educators in Allegheny and Philadelphia County school districts will address issues of curriculum alignment, credit transfer, and prompt home school reintegration. 

The project is sponsored by the Pennsylvania Council of Chief Juvenile Probation officers.  To ensure continued cooperation and buy-in from all necessary stakeholders, Candace has identified several groups of state, county and local stakeholders to advise on the project in order to bridge the gaps between the three systems (education, juvenile justice and career/technical training) as well as gaps between the different jurisdictions.  The project advisory board will include representatives from Pennsylvania Department of Education, Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, Chiefs of Probation from Allegheny and Philadelphia Counties, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, Juvenile Law Center and others.  The candidate further identifies two subcommittees as a means to ensure even greater multi-system collaboration: an academic advisory subcommittee and a workforce readiness subcommittee.

Use of the Results

Candace plans to share the results of the project and encourage the replication of reforms throughout Pennsylvania through statewide conferences.  These conferences will serve to share the work, address barriers, and conduct cross-system policy assessment and planning.  She will also develop tools and manuals (e.g. best practices manuals, records transfer protocols, audit tools) that will facilitate replication of this effort throughout the state and nationally.

1 Griffin, Patrick, and Mary Hunninen. Preparing Youth for Productive Futures.  Pennsylvania Progress: A Juvenile Justice Research, Policy, and Practice Series.  National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ). January 2008.

2 Ibid.

3 Neild, Ruth Curran and Robert Belfanz. Unfulfilled Promise: The Dimensions and Characteristics of Philadelphia's Dropout Crisis 2000-2005Philadelphia Youth Network, The Johns Hopkins University, and University of Pennsylvania. 2006.

4 Cohen, Mark A.  "The Monetary Value of Saving a High-Risk Youth," Journal of Quantitative Criminology, Vol. 14, No. 1, 1998.