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Keystone College Introduces Juvenile Justice Institute

The lives of many juveniles in Northeastern Pennsylvania and across the entire state may be able to improve significantly, thanks to the newly formed Keystone College Juvenile Justice Institute.

The new organization, founded and directed by Keystone criminal justice and psychology faculty members Stacey Wyland and Deborah Belknap, and assisted by faculty member Marie Andreoli, will tackle juvenile justice issues from several different approaches.

Keystone College Introduces Juvenile Justice Institute

The Keystone College Juvenile Justice Institute, led by Associate Professor Stacey Wyland and  Assistant Professor Deborah Doyle Belknap, J.D., Ph.D.

Goals of the Juvenile Justice Institute

One goal of the new organization, housed in renovated headquarters in Harris Hall, is to assist in resentencing proceedings for juveniles in Pennsylvania who have been sentenced to life without parole. The cases need to be reviewed because of the United States Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama.

In that case, the Court ruled it is unconstitutional to automatically sentence juveniles under the age of 18 to life in prison without parole without a full review of the juvenile’s life circumstances. That means the cases of some 400 juveniles in Pennsylvania who have received such sentences now have to be fully reviewed to reflect the Court’s decision. Stacey and Deb, assisted by their students, will conduct extensive investigations into the backgrounds of juveniles previously sentenced to life in prison.

“Miller v. Alabama changed the landscape of juvenile justice sentencing throughout the nation. In Pennsylvania, there are hundreds of youths who have been sentenced to life without parole. Our job is to collect all of the information necessary to help the courts reformulate more appropriate sentences for juvenile offenders, taking into account the seriousness of the crime but also their potential for change and rehabilitation,” Stacey said. “This will be an opportunity for our students to have hands-on involvement in important, real-world work, while saving counties money by offering pro bono services.”

Other goals of the Institute are more preventative in nature. Stacey and Deb will work with local school districts, police departments, district attorney offices, and other educational and law enforcement organizations to recognize trauma in young people and provide “trauma-informed” services.

“By recognizing that certain behaviors in young people may be rooted in trauma, it may be possible to address the problems before the behaviors escalate, possibly even into violence,” Stacey said. “Taking the right preventative steps could help make schools and communities safer. Certainly, that is our goal.”

Intervention, Mediation, and Teaching

Other planned projects include providing mediation services to schools and courts, and training school personnel to establish peer mediation, which can help remedy small disputes before they escalate.

The Institute will also develop interventions to assist children who are dealing with the trauma of the incarceration or deportation of a parent, which is an increasing and often overlooked group.

Beginning in September, Deb and Stacey plan to involve Keystone students in the Institute’s projects.

“This will be a great learning experience for our criminal justice, psychology, and social science majors, and any other Keystone student who wants to become involved in helping young people during stressful times in their lives.”

Enrolling about 1,400 students, Keystone offers more than 40 undergraduate and graduate degree options in liberal arts and science-based programs in business, communications, education, fine arts, natural science, environmental resource management, geology, and social sciences. Located 15 minutes from Scranton, Pa. and two hours from New York City and Philadelphia, Keystone is known for small class sizes and individual attention focused on student success through internships, research, and community involvement.