New bills would expand diversion, limit detention, tailor out-of-home placement and keep kids from being charged as adults in Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system
HARRISBURG – The Sens. Camera Bartolotta (R-46) and Anthony Williams (D-8) today introduced the Juvenile Justice Policy Act, which aims to reduce Pennsylvania’s reliance on out-of-home placements for relatively low-level offenses and establish consistency across the state when courts divert youth cases.
Research shows that most youth are not on a path toward adult crime, and over-involvement in the juvenile justice system can increase their likelihood of reoffending. Yet most youth in the system have little or no prior history of delinquency, have not committed a felony or a person offense and do not score as high risk to reoffend. What’s more, hundreds of kids each year are automatically charged with adult crimes and punished in the adult system, all without prior review by a juvenile court judge.
“Current juvenile justice practices routinely undercut the stability of families, communities and the economy by removing kids from home, disrupting their education and spending significant taxpayer money on interventions that are not effective and can lead to increased recidivism,” said Bartolotta. “Our goal is to reduce victimization and promote community safety by ensuring that young people who are struggling in our communities receive the right level of intervention at the right time, in an environment that is designed for them, while holding them accountable for their actions.”
Williams said, “Kids deserve a fair chance no matter who they are and where they live. Unless we act now to change the course of this appalling trend, our juvenile justice system will continue to be a revolving door for all young people – but particularly for those whose race, gender, ability or zip code make them more likely to be caught up in it.”
Together, these bills make important changes that would:
- Expand and standardize pre-petition diversion, and clarify the parameters of post-petition diversion, to improve outcomes for youth and communities.
- Reduce the length of time a young person can spend in detention prior to adjudication and expand access to detention alternatives.
- Reserve out-of-home placement for the most serious cases, while limiting the default length of stay in placement.
- Tailor restitution to go directly to victims and be within the ability of youth to pay while under supervision, and ensure youth receive at least minimum wage for work while in placement.
- Eliminate direct file to adult court, ensuring all youth get a hearing in juvenile court.
The bill features reforms consistent with the bipartisan, interbranch Juvenile Justice Task Force, which last summer published data-driven policy recommendations to fix Pennsylvania’s broken juvenile justice system. The group’s goal is to protect public safety, ensure accountability, contain costs, and improve outcomes for youth, families, and communities.