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Unfortunately, the fact that incidences of violence in Pennsylvania’s schools is worse than ever is not anything new. But now, at least the state’s juvenile courts are armed with a clear-cut method of dealing with offenders once they appear in front of the bench. In a recent decision on an appeal from a Pike County, Pa., defendant in In the Interest of J.C., PICS Case No. 00-0800 (Pa. Super. May 2, 2000) Tamilia, J. (9 pages), the Superior Court created a four-prong test for assessing school violence cases. “The range and variety of these incidents is incapable of description, but with the … guidelines it should be possible to construct a treatment program ranging from home supervision, or counseling, through residential therapeutic treatment, incarceration or certification to criminal court,” Superior Court Judge Patrick Tamilia said in the court opinion. “The juvenile court, with its expertise, resources and commitment to both rehabilitation of children and protection of the public, is uniquely capable of dealing with this crisis and, to some degree, preventing its escalation.” Based not only on the facts of the case, but also on the stated purpose of the Juvenile Act, the court set forth a list of four guidelines for dealing with school violence offenders. The parameters include: The facts should establish a “purposeful and intentional” perpetration of acts that would cause injury or other severe disturbances if carried out. Each alleged offender should be evaluated by police investigators, mental health professionals and juvenile correctional experts to determine the proper course of action, evaluate any prior similar behavior and consider the potential for future similar behavior. Evaluate the impact of the child’s family relationships, stability and interaction with peers on his or her behavior. Assess the effect of the behavior on individuals and the community, as well as the security and social services resources of the community. The defendant, identified as “J.C.,” was alleged to have placed two threatening hand-written notes and two packages supposedly containing bombs in the Delaware Valley middle and high schools on April 23, 1999, just three days after the killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. The discovery of the items led to the evacuation of both schools and the response of local emergency personnel. The Pike County Common Pleas Court adjudicated J.C. delinquent, finding that she had made terroristic threats. She was ordered to pay a $500 fine and placed in a youth services residential treatment facility, subjected to administrative review after six months and judicial review after nine months. On appeal to the Superior Court, J.C. argued there was not enough evidence to prove the commonwealth’s case beyond a reasonable doubt and that her sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Tamilia first reviewed the evidence that led the trial court to rule that J.C. was the one who made the threats. There was evidence that J.C. told at least five other students she was the source of the threats and pointed to places in the girls’ bathroom where the bomb was allegedly stored. School records showed J.C. was not where she was supposed to be at points in time relevant to the threats. Tamilia said the Superior Court agreed with the trial court that there was overwhelming evidence proving J.C. was the offender. Turning to J.C.’s argument that her sentence focused on punishment rather than rehabilitation, Tamilia said the program at Northern Tier Youth Services was appropriate in that it focused on the possible underlying mental health problems of an offender rather than a short behavior modification regime. The court concluded that Pike County Common Pleas Court President Judge Harold A. Thomson Jr. successfully passed the maiden voyage of the four-prong school violence test. “Upon review of the disposition transcript, it is clear the court balanced many factors in fashioning a disposition appropriate for [J.C.]. In addition to the testimony of [a police officer], the court reviewed the social summary report prepared after evaluation of [J.C.], [J.C.'s] rehabilitative needs and consideration of the seriousness of [J.C.'s] acts,” Tamilia said. “The record indicates that neither [J.C.] nor her parents appreciated the severity of her actions. Moreover, the record reveals [J.C.] has a history of suicidal thoughts and that the residential treatment facility is better equipped to address [J.C.'s] problems than alternative placements, such as boot camp. Based upon our review, it is clear the court did not abuse its discretion.”

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