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Panels will aim to reduce juvenile crime in Franklin County

January 17, 2002

Panels will aim to reduce juvenile crime in Franklin County



By STACEY DANZUSO

chbbureau@innernet.net

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Franklin County Juvenile Probation officials say they hope that establishing community panels to decide and oversee the punishment of some first-time juvenile offenders will reduce the number of repeat criminal actions.

Greene and Guilford townships will be the first ones in Franklin County with Youth Aid panels. Residents can apply through the end of January to serve on the panels in those townships.

Juvenile Probation will refer certain cases of first-time offenders to the panel for consideration, said Heather Evans, Youth Aid coordinator for Franklin County Juvenile Probation.

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The local panel is modeled after other successful diversion programs in the state, she said.

"It involves the community in trying to help juvenile offenders realize the community around them does care, is paying attention and does not want them to get involved in further criminal behavior," Evans said.

The juvenile and his or her parents must meet with the panel jointly and individually.

"They will try to get a feel for the family dynamics and what they were thinking when they committed the crime," Evans said.

The victim can attend or file a victim's impact statement.

The panel will set some form of punishment for the juvenile that could include community service, essays or apology letters, Evans said.

A monitor is assigned to make sure the youth completes the conditions of the agreement and that there is no second infraction.

Evans said the purpose behind such programs is to show youths the community is supportive and involved, and hopefully get them to think twice before committing another crime.

Nationwide, more than 70 percent of juveniles will commit repeat offenses within six months of the first crime, Evans said.

The community approach can help lower that, while giving the juvenile the opportunity to avoid official probation and a criminal record. It also resolves the issue much faster than the traditional system can, she said.

Participants are evaluated on an individual basis, and there are no set guidelines other than that youths must be first-time offenders and admit their guilt.

Evans said probation decided to pilot the program in Greene and Guilford townships because the communities are served by Pennsylvania Sate Police and the same district justice.

Eventually she hopes to see panels with five to seven members on each established across the county.

Applicants from Greene and Guilford will be interviewed next month, followed by background checks and intensive training.

Members of the Pennsylvania State Police, the Franklin County District Attorney's Office, and District Justice Larry Meminger have all helped move the proposal forward.

Meminger called panels "another weapon we can add to the arsenal to see if we can get through to some of these kids so that they don't come back again."

Meminger said most juvenile cases he hears involve multiple offenders.

Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. George Cronin said similar programs across the state are highly effective in reducing the number of repeat offenders.

Cronin said he expects the program to be a good learning opportunity for local residents on the juvenile justice system, as well as for the youths who will see their community cares and is interested in their future.

Evans said it is too soon to even guess how many of the 700 juvenile cases the county sees annually could be handled by the Youth Aid Panel.

Applications to serve on the panel are available for Greene or Guilford township residents at the Juvenile Probation office at 425 Franklin Farm Lane; Meminger's office at 191 Franklin Farm Lane and the District Attorney's Office in the Franklin County Courthouse.

For more information, contact Evans at 1-717-261-3122.

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