One in five juvenile offenders in Pennsylvania commits another crime within two years of leaving the justice system — that's according to a new report from the state's Juvenile Court Judges' Commission. It's the first report to track state-wide re-offense rates for juveniles.

The research, which tracked outcomes for more than 18,000 offenders whose cases closed in 2007, is part of an overall attempt to transform the state's juvenile justice system and reduce recidivism rates with evidence-based methods. The effort started in 2010.

For example, counties have rolled out risk assessment tools to determine which offenders will be most likely to commit more crimes.

New data

Jim Anderson is the executive director of the Juvenile Court Judges' Commission.

He says until now, no solid data was available to understand how well the system was working, and that information is needed to make informed decisions, and to track outcomes. He says this report also provides information on the life situations of those who re-offended.

"We have to focus not just on what happens when they are in the juvenile justice system, but we have to know what is going on in their lives beyond that, and what else is impacting on their lives," he said.

Results discussed

Stoneleigh Fellow Justine Fowler lead this research. She says the report found, for example, that more than 90 percent of those who re-offended were male and a majority came from difficult family situations.

"What we would call disrupted family background — those juveniles had the highest recidivism rates," she explained of information which fits into one of the new strategies to reduce recidivism. "So in Pennsylvania, a huge initiative right now is family involvement for families in all the stages of the juvenile justice system."

Jim Anderson says the state will collect more data going forward to be able to evaluate recent changes that have been made to the juvenile justice system — to see if they are actually reducing recidivism rates.