Our programs work.  Read what others have to say about it.

Names have been changed to protect our clients.
When JoAnn first asked me to speak about my experience with the Youth Aid Panel, my first thought was that I would be too nervous, but I feel that the program is just too important so here I am. 😊
I first became aware of the Youth Aid Panel in December of 2006. It was a very emotional time for both my son and I and neither of us knew what to expect. We had a thousand questions running through our minds like… will they take the time to listen? Will they be judgmental and make us feel like horrible people? Are they really there to help educate him and work together? Are they going to get to know us? Julian was trying to work through what happened and he had so many feelings that he was dealing with… he was disappointed in himself, angry and embarrassed that it happened. He knew he made a bad decision that night and he was trying to work through it. I was still dealing with my emotions as well. I was mad, sad, shocked and disappointed….  You name it we were both feeling it. I love my son and would do anything to help him get back on track.
Then it was time… they called our names and we went in the room with our hearts in our throats. I could tell right away that everyone on the panel was genuinely concerned and took the time to get to know Julian… listened to his side of the story… ask how he was doing in school…what his hobbies were… how he felt about what happened. They also took the time to listen to me which quite honestly as just what I needed… it was my time to talk about what happened with someone and through draining it felt so good to talk about it. Anyway,… they drew up a contract and what was so impressive about it was the fact that they took some of Julian's talents and his hobbies and worked in projects that fit him and his creativeness. It was truly a life-changing event for both of us and we left there that night feeling good and I knew that this was the best thing for him.
As the months went on and we reported in monthly, it became something we actually almost looked forward to. Everyone was so friendly and wanted him to succeed. Julian was working hard on his projects, taking responsibility of his actions, giving back to the community and really understanding the ripple effect of his actions. I could see him change month by month. The night of his graduation was quite a celebration… not only did he complete the program but he had grown as a person, could now move on with the tools and education that he needed to prevent this from happening again. They say it takes a village to raise a family and I truly believe that and am so thankful that we went through it. He has continued to do well and is now a freshman in college. This past Spring Break he went on a medical mission to Honduras with Penn State- treating over 1200 people. Community service is still very important to him.
I felt so strongly about the program that I knew I had to become involved, so I joined the panel and have never regretted it. It has been great getting to know everyone and I have met so many families and kids. I know that being a teenager in today’s world is hard and yes sometimes bad decisions are made. The panel is there to educate and give the kids the tools they need so they can know what to do next time they are faced with peer pressure or whatever situation they may be in. One of the things I enjoy the most is being a mentor. They call me once a week and this really gives me a chance to get to know them, know how they’re feeling and help them along the way. To watch them grow and see them become proud of themselves when they complete their contract is something that makes me so proud and glad that I became a member of this panel!


CACJ was contacted by the attorney for a local municipality to determine if mediation might be appropriate for their concerns. We were able to meet with the attorney and speak with the other parties and everyone decided to “come to the mediation table” to work toward resolution. It is our practice to speak with each party before the mediation occurs to explain the process and hear their concerns and perspective on the issue(s) to be addressed. There was a total of six people and two mediators that participated in a two-hour mediation. We met in a neutral location at a nearby church to also accommodate the eight participants.

The mediation process allows each person to have uninterrupted time to share their story as everyone listens attentively. Once everyone has had their opportunity to speak the mediators ask questions to clarify, gain more information and encourage conversation. There was lively discussions and differing opinions about the important concerns each brought to the table. The parties were not able to reach a resolution but agreed that the chance to speak and be heard was a valuable experience.
Women's Leadership Initiative Grant
CACJ has been awarded a $4,000 grant from the Women's Leadership Initiative of the United Way!
     United Way has been a long-time supporter of CACJ's program. In this ocassion, the grant will help to establish a panel for Youth Aid Panel in the Philipsburg/Osceola School District.
     We are eager to work with the school's resource officers and the courts to provide alternatives and second chances to young people who are first time offenders.
    We THANK the Women's Leadership Group for this generous grant and for partnering with us to provide this restorative justice program to the families of our community.
Author: Evelyn Wald
October 29th, 2019

The Bail Trap Event
     The Division of Student Affairs presented a film screening and a panel discussion on November 23rd at 5pm at the Hub Auditorium. The film, The Bail Trap, was screened and a panel of four speakers followed it to answer the questions proposed by Mrs. Leslie Lang, the Director Adult Learner Programs & Services and a fierce advocate of minorities in Centre County.
     The panel included the Executive Director for the Center for Alternatives in Community Justice, Evelyn Wald, who accompanied the Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna, the Magisterial District Judge Steven Lachman, and an Attorney for Student Legal Services at Penn State, Daniel Mckenrick.
     Many questions arose from the documentary for which the legal system does not provide an explanation. One of the questions was why are there people in jail without the right to post bail and what are the facts considered to make this determination. One of the issues exposed was the lack of standards around the United States (and in Centre County)  to make a determination as to who deserves the chance to post bail and for what amount. However, all the panel members expressed that in Centre County the Magisterial District Judges are pretty reasonable in making such determination.
      Evelyn Wald explained the role of the Center for Alternatives in Community Justice in the topic: One of CACJ's programs is the Pre-Trial program which provides supervision, support, and insights to those who have allegedly committed a crime and are waiting for trial. During that process, CACJ helps them to find or maintain their jobs, find or maintain a place to live,  and helps them organize their lives for whatever decisions are made at trial.
     With this program, CACJ saved the county almost 400 thousand dollars in taxes last year, and helped many families in this process after arrest. 
Author: Salua Kamerow
October 29th, 2019
CONSTITUTION DAY – September 15, 2019
     On Constitution Day, CACJ will be celebrating at Tussey Mountain with information about the Eighth Amendment.
    The amendment was adopted on December 15, 1791, along with the Bill of Rights.
The Constitution is a living document. It is enforced, challenged and changed as our country continues to address these issues.
     Over several decades this amendment has been challenged. Regarding excessive bail, in a case in 1951, the Supreme Court declared that a bail amount is "excessive" under the Eighth Amendment if it were "a figure higher than is reasonably calculated" to ensure the defendant's appearance at trial.  (Stack vs. Boyle)
     Addressing excessive fines, in 1909, the Supreme Court held that excessive fines are those that are "so grossly excessive as to amount to a deprivation of property without due process of law.” (Waters-Pierce Oil Co. vs Texas) The prohibition of excessive fines referred only to the Supreme Court until February 20, 2019, when the amendment was expanded to include states.
     Traditionally, the length of a prison sentence was not subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment, regardless of the crime for which the sentence was imposed. It was not until 1983 that the Supreme Court held that incarceration, standing alone, could constitute cruel and unusual punishment if it were "disproportionate" in duration to the offense. The Court outlined three factors that were to be considered in determining if a sentence is excessive: "(i) the gravity of the offense and the harshness of the penalty; (ii) the sentences imposed on other criminals in the same jurisdiction; and (iii) the sentences imposed for commission of the same crime in other jurisdictions." The Court held that in the circumstances of the case before it and the factors to consider, a sentence of life imprisonment without parole for cashing a $100 check on a closed account was cruel and unusual. (Powell vs. Texas) 
     Two of our programs at CACJ relate to this amendment. In our Pretrial Supervision program, individuals who have been arrested are provided opportunities to avoid incarceration while awaiting sentencing on supervised bail. In our Youth Aid Panel program when juveniles complete the program their fines are waived and their charges are dropped.
     Because CACJ believes in restorative justice both of these programs reflect opportunities to help individuals restore their personal dignity and integrity and restore relationships within their victims and communities.
Author: Evelyn Wald
September 3rd, 2019
Our Restorative Justice Focus
     When engaging in conversations with others, we often use terms that we assume folks understand. Even if they state they know what the terms mean, we still may have a different definition.
     At the Center for Alternatives in Community Justice (CACJ), we talk a lot about restorative justice principles and practices, and we use them on a daily basis.
     I will define restorative justice following the concepts of Howard Zehr, who is known to be one of the “pioneers” of this field. Therefore, many of the ideas shared below are from Zehr’s book: “The Little Book of Restorative Justice,” published in 2002.
     The concepts and philosophy of restorative justice emerged in the United States and Canada during the 1970s and 1980s. Restorative justice expanded the circle of stakeholders beyond just the formal justice system and the offender, to include victims (those affected by the actions of the offender) and community members.
     Zehr does an interesting comparison of the criminal justice view and the lens of restorative justice. While the criminal justice system asks:
•What laws have been violated? 
•Who did it? 
•What do they deserve?
Restorative justice asks:
•Who has been hurt?
•What are their needs?
•Whose obligations are these?
     The legal system tends to look at accountability as making sure offenders are punished. Restorative justice, however, looks beyond the offense committed into the victim’s harm. Moreover, restorative justice goes beyond the victim’s harm to also explore harm experienced by offenders and communities. The goal of restorative justice is to provide an opportunity for and experience of healing for all stakeholders. Adjusting the lens from retribution to restoration helps to build stronger communities.
     CACJ seeks to create programs and opportunities to move toward a restorative justice culture within our criminal justice system. All of our current programs ARE supported by our local courts and government agencies. Therefore, we hope to continue promoting processes that are restorative and healing.
Author: Evelyn Wald
August 29th, 2019
Building Community
          In the last two weeks, I have had the privilege of taking part in a number of community activities. As I reflected upon these experiences, I recognized that they all represented people coming together to serve our community in some way.
           On Friday, June 21st, I participated in one of many programs for the Second Arts and Dance Fest in downtown State College. Creative programs and opportunities for all ages enabled our community to display its talent and encouraged others to use their own abilities to explore an array of options for serious endeavors as well as just for fun. There was a great energy flowing through Allen Street, which was closed off for the event.
           That very same day, our own CACJ sponsored a fundraising event in Millheim. Our hope was to showcase this lovely town and promote the work of CACJ. It was a delightful evening of strolling through shops and restaurants while enjoying food, drink, and fellowship together. So many people said they had no idea Millheim was such a wonderful place. Again, we came together to highlight and celebrate community. We hope to do it again next year with even more options.
           On Tuesday, June 25, many folks gathered at the Good Day Café to say thank you and goodbye to Tammy Gentzel, who retired after serving as United Way director for more than 9 years. (Congratulations to Wendy Vinhage who will take over as the NEW director). The café was filled with agency directors, volunteers, community members, commissioners, and more. It was not only a great tribute to Tammy but also another demonstration of the generosity and commitment our community members have to making Centre County a welcoming, caring, supportive community.
            Looking Ahead: Watch the community come together in partnership again for 4th Fest, the Arts Festival, and People’s Choice.
These events are just a few of the many opportunities that happen throughout the year—too many to name! We live in a vibrant community that offers us so much. And, when there is a need, someone notices and usually begins to formulate ways to address the need.
           Our programs at CACJ, like so many other community efforts, reflect this caring response to the needs of others. I am proud to be an active member of our Centre County community at large and the director of CACJ.
            Together we can and do make a difference. Thank you to everyone who contributes to the safety, health, enhancement, and well-being of countless individuals within our community.
Author: Evelyn Wald
July 15th, 2019
YAP is all About Second Chances
 In Centre County we are lucky to have a number of programs—usually scarce in the rest of Pennsylvania— which allow juveniles to meditate about their behavior, learn about the civic standards, repair our community, and move on while acknowledging they were given a second chance.
            I get it; most of us were born in times where whomever offended the community had a sanction and went through social embarrassment. It was, in part, the wrong belief that a sanction would teach a lesson, and, if the sanction was severe, the chances to be successful in teaching good behavioral patterns were better.
            Today, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, nearly 60,000 youths under the age of 18 are incarcerated on any given day. The truth is that sanctioning juveniles with incarceration and disrupting their education removes them from their homes and fosters trauma and resentment, which later on translates into violence.
            While making mistakes is a common denominator among children, having second chances is not always a possibility. However, the Centre County Youth Aid Panel has been around for almost 16 years, fostering understanding of the law and offering alternatives to the court system to children and youth, and their families.
            The Youth Aid Panel is an option that some courts, police, probation officers, and resource officers (among other referrals) consider when dealing with juvenile offenders. The program is based on two conditions: the juvenile must be a first offender, and; he/she must acknowledge his/her wrong to the community.
            On one hand, we deal only with first offenders because we believe in second chances. Therefore, we hope that a juvenile who benefits from the program learns to behave according to the community rules and expectations. That said, a juvenile who has offended the community more than once is failing to reconsider other routes to solve conflicts and positive behavior. Therefore, no more chances are given to a juvenile who has been charged before.
            As the participation in the program is voluntary, the juvenile that decides to be part of it will acknowledge he/she committed a crime. In other words, he/she admits his/her involvement in the crime and his/her willingness to repair the community.
How Does it Work?

            Our coordinator will schedule a meeting by phone with the juvenile and his/her parent or guardian. In some cases, the coordinator receives is invited to attend a hearing before a Magisterial District Judge as an alternative to the trial. This coordinator oversees a group of volunteers who form a panel once a month (in each municipality)—on the third Monday (in Bellefonte) and Thursday (in State College) of the month— to meet with the juvenile and his/her parent or guardian.
            At the meeting, the panel of monitors interviews the juvenile and his/her parent or guardian under strict rules of confidentiality (except for those situations in which the monitors are legally required to report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect to the authorities and indication of harm to themselves or to others).
            After the interview, the monitors excuse the parent or guardian and juvenile, discuss the case in private, and draft a contract. A few minutes later, the juvenile and his/her companion join the group again to read the drafted contract. If the juvenile and his/her parent or guardian decide to accept the terms of the contract, a monitor will be assigned to the case, and all parties sign it.
          The juvenile is expected to check in with the monitor weekly by phone, monthly in-person, do community service hours, and perform some assignments (letters of apology, drawings, essays, etc.)
   If the juvenile completes the program within the time written in the contract, he/she graduates, and his/her charges disappear. Otherwise, the juvenile is discharged with an explanation for the discharge and sent back to the referral to have a day in court.
   95% of the juveniles who attend the program complete the assignments and community service and graduate successfully.
          Commonly, on the day of graduation, juveniles are thankful for the program and express their gratitude to their monitors. It is encouraging to the monitors to give their valuable time to this noble cause, and supports the idea that at YAP, we are all about second chances. 
Author: Salua Kamerow
June 3rd, 2019
Grants, Sponsorships, and Awards
October 2019




The Ken Wilkinson Award
Ken Wilkinson was one of the founding members of CACJ. Upon his death in 1993, a restricted fund was established in his name. Each year, this fund is used for two primary purposes:
CACJ presents an award to an individual who has demonstrated a commitment for outstanding contributions in alternatives to incarceration.
Up to fifty dollars is spent on an offender reentering the community for "show money" (money to be used for a specific item to help him/her reintegrate).

Some previous recipients of this award are:
Ronald Horner, District Justice
Gerald Wilson, Centre County Warden
Barbara Seibel, former CACJ director
Marie Hamilton, Centre Peace
Charles Brown, retired President Judge
Back to Top