The Call for Juvenile Justice Reform in Pennsylvania

State legislators are finally tackling needed improvements regarding youth justice in Pennsylvania.

The Call for Juvenile Justice Reform in Pennsylvania (Getty Images)

It takes small steps to achieve big things and the proof can be seen within Pennsylvania’s fight to make positive changes in juvenile justice. 

According to Whyy, proposed reforms are finally being prioritized.

Over two years ago, the Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Task Force issued a comprehensive report with recommendations for revamping the troubled youth justice system in the state. Now, these proposed reforms are finally advancing in Harrisburg.

Scott Hechinger on X offered a visual of what the children currently endure under the Pennsylvania juvenile system.

The Youth Safety Caucus recently conducted a webinar to provide an update on legislative progress. Erika Parks, a policy officer at Pew Charitable Trusts, mentioned that House Bill 1381, sponsored by state Rep. Dan Miller (D-Allegheny), successfully cleared the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee in September and is likely to be voted on soon. HB1381 introduces significant changes to the state’s youth justice system, including putting an end to the direct filing of youth into adult court, eliminating most court fees and fines, banning the use of solitary confinement on children, prioritizing diversion programs, and requiring legal consultation before a child waives their rights.

Donna Cooper, the executive director of Children First, an advocacy nonprofit, has been a leading voice against the state’s controversial youth detention facilities like Glen Mills Schools and Clock Tower Schools, their successor. She acknowledged that the current bills being considered in the General Assembly are promising and, if passed, would provide crucial support to youth involved in the juvenile justice system.

Cooper emphasized that true community safety and reduced reliance on detention facilities can be achieved by addressing the needs and underlying causes of children displaying early signs of behavioral issues. She also pointed out that the school-to-prison pipeline begins even earlier.

Chris Welsh, the director of the Delaware County Office of the Public Defender, emphasized the importance of emphasizing diversion, supporting community-based programs, and scrutinizing the conditions in detention facilities for cases where detention is deemed necessary. His office played a role in exposing abuse allegations at the Delaware County Juvenile Detention Center in 2021.

While there is a broad consensus among stakeholders regarding the need for more community-based resources and less detention, there are some disagreements when it comes to the specifics of how to achieve this. However, there is optimism that a version of reform bills will eventually pass through the legislature.

Noumaan Faiz, (he/him) is a journalist and entertainer from Hayward, CA who covers culture and entertainment.

Edited by Nykeya Woods

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