Navigating New Terrain: Pennsylvania’s Criminal Justice Advisory Board Makes Strides in Evolving Justice System

James Turner, Chairman, Criminal Justice Advisory CommitteeCredit: Commonwealth Media Services

STATE COLLEGE, PA — Tuesday saw the kickoff of the 2024 Criminal Justice Advisory Board (CJAB) Conference in State College, Pennsylvania, marking the largest gathering since the conference’s inception in 2007. With participants tallying over a whopping 500, the event, hosted by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD), became a focal point for discussions on new and reemerging challenges plaguing our criminal justice and behavioral health systems.

The PCCD, with Executive Director Mike Pennington at its helm, has been working tirelessly towards fighting the sweeping tide of challenges, including rising mental health concerns, gun violence, an alarming drug and overdose epidemic, and a strained workforce that affects our criminal justice and behavioral health systems. Pennington expresses faith in the power of collaboration, believing it to be the key to finding innovative ways that navigate these trends, leading to positive outcomes for the people of Pennsylvania.

The theme for this year’s conference, “An Evolving Justice System: Adapting and Navigating New Directions,” highlights the changing landscape of the criminal justice and behavioral health systems. Emphasizing the need for new, innovative solutions, participants engaged in discussions spanning a wide range of topics. These included support systems for people with substance use disorders, tackling community and gun violence, employing trauma-informed care, leveraging data and technology to bolster investigations and public safety, and effective strategies to reintegrate individuals post-incarceration back into their communities.

In recognition of the ongoing efforts, and steering leadership in the field, Pennington presented three esteemed awards. The Honorable Linda K.M. Ludgate CJAB Excellence in Leadership Award commended President Judge Nancy L. Butts of the Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas for her instrumental role in establishing treatment programs catering to county jail inmates and those returning to their home communities.

The Honorable John A. Zottola Mental Health and Justice Award recognized the efforts of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice, Kevin M. Dougherty, and Chief of Police Charles T. Streightiff of the Huntingdon Borough Police Department. Dougherty was awarded for his leadership over two decades in the sphere of mental and behavioral health, autism, intellectual disabilities, and juvenile justice. Streightiff was commended for his community work, particularly in enhancing child welfare and mental health.

The CJAB Best Practices Award was bestowed on the Centre County CJAB for their work supporting the Stepping Up Initiative, aimed at reducing the number of individuals with mental illnesses in jails and prisons. Among their notable initiatives were the creation of a behavioral health court, the Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Education (HOPE) initiative, a Reentry Coalition, and the Centre County Crisis Intervention Team (CIT).

The conference, a result of the partnership between PCCD, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, and the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, is a reflection of the collaborative spirit thriving in the justice system. The collaborative approach is further exemplified by the 67 county-level CJABs operating in Pennsylvania. With their diverse memberships, these boards play an instrumental role in formulating plans and introducing innovative solutions that touch all aspects of their local criminal justice system. The PCCD continues to support these boards through the provision of technical assistance and funding for CJAB-sponsored initiatives.

As the justice system continues to evolve, the importance of adaptable, innovative solutions becomes ever more clear. The 2024 CJAB Conference has reinforced this belief, bringing to light the sheer strength of collaboration as a driving tool to counter challenges and steer the criminal justice and behavioral health systems onto a path that promises more positive outcomes for all Pennsylvanians.

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