Monday, October 13, 2008

Juveniles Can Aid Elders Through Courts

On October 11, 2008, the Patriot-News (Harrisburg, PA) published an article entitled "Juvenile offenders' community service helps senior citizens" by Matt Miller, who reported about "the free help the teens in the community service program of Cumberland County's juvenile probation office were providing" to senior citizens.

Supervised personal services provided directly to senior citizens who have needs, by juvenile offenders ordered into a community service program, continues an evolutionary approach seeking a "win-win" solution to rehabilitation.

On October 31, 2006, a Press Release entitled "Governor Rendell Praises Changes in Juvenile Justice System" had celebrated the tenth anniversary of a reorientation in Pennsylvania's criminal justice system that instead "places priority on repairing harm done to victims" rather than punishment, as to juvenile offenders.

The face of juvenile justice is changing in Pennsylvania, Governor Edward G. Rendell said.

Today, other states are following the commonwealth’s lead as young offenders are paying restitution to victims and contributing hundreds of thousands of hours of community service in a system that is as concerned about victims as it about rehabilitating the young who have committed a crime, the Governor added.

“For the first time in history, the juvenile system places balanced attention on community protection, redeeming youth and restoring victims,” Governor Rendell said. “It is a system no longer shrouded in secrecy.” * * *
That reorientation was proposed in 1996 by the Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges' Commission, a committed group created by the Legislature in 1959 that remains active in devising, monitoring, and expanding affirmative programs to rehabilitate juvenile offenders.
The old system, while well-meaning, focused primarily on the offender’s supervision and rehabilitation. Victims were mostly observers, not participants.

The Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission, which proposed the changes and played a pivotal role in their passage, has worked with juvenile court judges, juvenile probation officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys and victim advocates to help them understand and carry out the new mission of the juvenile system.

It has been an evolving process. * * *
A subsequent Press Statement, dated February, 2007, entitled "Juvenile offenders and communities across the state benefit from innovative community service programs", highlighted how, "[a]s part of their rehabilitation program, juvenile offenders have the opportunity to use their skills and talents to help their community."
Every county in the state gives youth offenders the opportunity to work in their community on different projects, such as building houses for Habitat for Humanity, planting trees at a local park, or helping at a local food bank.

Community service, which is part of their rehabilitation, helps juvenile offenders by making them feel proud of the work they are doing and the community in which they live. For example, in Dauphin County, juvenile offenders helped build a new park in their community; in Berks County, teen offenders helped to plant flowers and vegetables at a local park.

Not only do youth find community service rewarding, but local authorities and community members are also seeing the difference this program is making in the lives of teenagers. * * *
JCJC remains at the forefront of this rehabilitative movement that required juvenile offenders to perform helpful services and offers a positive community experience.

For example, its "
2008 Conference on Juvenile Justice", as co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania Council of Chief Juvenile Probation Officers and the Juvenile Court Section of the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges, will present discussions consistent with the theme "Competency and Career Development for Delinquent Youth: Creating New Expectations" on November 5-7 (Wed-Fri), 2008, in Harrisburg, PA.

The general nature of community service by juvenile offenders is well-explained in a description posted on the Franklin County (PA) website for its program, established in 1992:
Community Service is an integral part of the juvenile dispositions and most juveniles referred to this office are assigned community service as a condition of their probation supervision.

All community service projects are done at locations that benefit the community and/or nonprofit agencies. Community service youth participate in the Adopt-A-Highway program, community clean-up days, and help maintain County owned property.

Additionally, the community service youth work at local fire departments, police departments, hospitals, schools, soup kitchens, and animal shelters. * * *
See also: Westmoreland County, PA's "Community Service Work Program" and its six listed examples of work sites.

The guidelines for such programs, to be followed by trial judges and juvenile probation departments, are set forth in JCJC's "Standards Governing the Assignment of Community Service in Juvenile Delinquency Cases", found in 37 PA. Code, Ch. 200, published 06/02/07 at 37 Pa.B. 2517.

However, in searching the excellent website of the JCJC under the terms "senior", "elder", "aged", "retired", and "older", I find no references whatsoever to that class of individuals. One could conclude that no such programs or studies link the service of juvenile offenders to the needs of individual senior citizens.

So that is why the recent news article attracted my attention. It reported how, in Cumberland County, PA, juvenile offenders are assigned, as their community service requirement, to assist elderly residents in meeting their pressing personal needs.
Maylie McGlaughlin stood on the porch of her Camp Hill home and watched a bunch of one-time troublemakers tidy up her yard.

The 85-year-old widow was grateful for the free help the teens in the community service program of Cumberland County's juvenile probation office were providing.

Health problems prevent her from doing the chores herself, she said.
"Just vacuuming the floor is exhausting for me," McGlaughlin said. "These kids have done my yard work. They took out my air conditioner. In the winter they've shoveled snow for me. "They're all so willing, and they're polite," she said.

They're sweating to atone for past misdeeds.* * *
So, it can be done; and such community services should be expanded to benefit senior citizens.

I suggest that the Pennsylvania Department of Aging work with the JCJC to devise programs that would benefit senior centers, and also individual homebound senior citizens, which would teach the youth about caregiving at a basic level.

With proper supervision, such programs could further expand
JCJC's mission, and also fill a growing need in this Commonwealth.

I further suggest that each participant should be required to watch "The Ultimate Gift" movie to peek at the lifelong benefits that could be realized by the youths while interacting with the seniors.

"Any process you are going through will get tougher before it gets easier.
That's what makes learning a gift. Even though pain is your teacher."

-- Character Red Stevens in The Ultimate Gift