Behind the Scenes with Kelly Waltman-Spreha ’05

Ten years after Kelly Waltman-Spreha ’05 earned her master’s degree in criminal justice from Shippensburg University, she returned to campus to pursue a different role.

Housed in Horton Hall is a valuable resource for the statewide juvenile court justice system. The Center for Juvenile Justice Training and Research (CJJT&R) was founded as a partnership between the Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission (JCJC) and Shippensburg University, and has been located at Ship for over thirty years. The center provides training, graduate education, balanced and restorative justice, and secure detention monitoring programs for more than 3,000 juvenile probation officers, juvenile court judges, and other juvenile justice staff.
“Anyone who works in juvenile probation in Pennsylvania is familiar with JCJC,” Waltman-Spreha said. “As I was looking at careers, I always thought it would be interesting to work for JCJC—and I have a soft spot for Shippensburg.”

Waltman-Spreha initially accepted a position as the coordinator of the center’s training and graduate education programs. Today, she serves as the center’s first female director.

In addition to daily administrative work, she oversees the center’s Information Technology Division. The IT Division develops and maintains the statewide online juvenile case management system, along with other essential applications used in the processing of juvenile court records. The center is responsible for compiling and publishing the statistics for juvenile court records throughout Pennsylvania, which are used to analyze the function of juvenile courts and plan for the future.

Waltman-Spreha intends to enhance the center’s research agenda and partner with Ship faculty. She said her position allows her to maintain unique perspectives from both the practical side and the more academic side of the job. “I see what is truly going on in the system.”

The juvenile court system is complicated. Children or teenagers who commit a crime often realize that they’ve done something wrong, but their brains are not done developing yet, Waltman-Spreha said. “There are a lot of dynamics—family, neighborhoods, schools. We need research to guide (how to work with juveniles).”

When balanced and restorative justice became a focus in the mid-1990s, the juvenile court system started looking at the person who committed the crime as well as other components, such as the impact on the victim and the community, she said.

“Over the last ten years, we’ve been working to emphasize the importance of evidence-based decision making. One example is the implementation of a standardized risk assessment. We need to focus on the high-risk kids who need certain services,” she said. “What services make the most sense, and what can you do to repair the harm to the community… We have to talk about what is helping and not harming, and talk about choices.”

As director of the center, she works with criminal justice professors to review the Master of Science in Administration of Juvenile Justice at Ship. While the graduate program has been offered through Ship for over thirty-five years, it was recently updated. The inaugural class of the new master’s degree will begin in fall 2018. This partnership is unique because it is a scholarship-based cohort program for juvenile justice professionals, and, based on funding, JCJC pays tuition and fees for those going through the program, she said.

Each year, JCJC hosts an annual conference, which Waltman-Spreha helped organize last November. The two-and-a-half day James E. Anderson Pennsylvania Conference on Juvenile Justice attracts about 900 juvenile justice professionals statewide and nationally. Workshops during the conference focus on practices, programs, and initiatives that represent best practices in the field. A youth awards program honors winners of the Creative Expression and Outstanding Achievement contest. Last year’s theme was Positive Thoughts Lead to Positive Actions.”

Looking ahead, Waltman-Spreha hopes to advance research through the center and expand partnerships with departments on campus for a truly interdisciplinary approach. She foresees students completing more internships and research projects with JCJC.

“We are the best-kept secret on campus,” she said. “JCJC is rife with possibilities for research in areas like criminal justice, social work, and education. …We want to increase our partnerships and expand our untapped potential with students and faculty on campus.”