On Monday, Governor Tom Wolf, justices from across Pennsylvania, and legislative leaders from the House and Senate jointly announced the new Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Task Force, which will assess how the state handles juvenile justice and deliver a report with suggestions on how to change the system by November 30, 2020.
The members of the task force, to be appointed by the three branches of state government, will represent legislators, law enforcement, judges, district attorneys and public defenders. The group will assess the state’s system and review data from court and state agencies, gather input from diverse stakeholders, and examine how current practices can better align with research about what works best to improve youth outcomes.
“Better outcomes in Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system will pay dividends for decades to come,” House Minority Leader Frank Dermody said. “It’s hard work, but the effort is well worth it.”
The task force's report will form the basis for statutory, budgetary and administrative changes to be voted on during the 2021-22 legislative session. The proposed changes, according to the The Pew Charitable Trusts which are assisting with the task force, should focus on protecting public safety, ensuring accountability, containing expenses, and improving outcomes for youth, families and communities.
“We must work together across party lines and across the branches of government to make sure Pennsylvania is doing all that it can for our young people,” Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa said. “This task force will pursue a consensus-based, data-driven process to achieve our goal.”
While Pennsylvania has been committed to achieving better juvenile justice outcomes through the Juvenile Court Judges' Commission and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, the Commonwealth still has one of the highest rates of juvenile commitment in the nation. The new task force is a bipartisan effort to use data and research to build upon past successes and evaluate current challenges.
“I look forward to recommendations from this task force that right-size our juvenile justice system and use the best evidence available to ensure taxpayer investments are yielding the public safety results our communities deserve,” Speaker of the House Mike Turzai said during the announcement of the new task force.
“This issue touches every corner of our Commonwealth,” House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler added. “Ensuring our juvenile justice system rehabilitates our youngest offenders not only helps create a positive path for them, but also strengthens families, protects communities, and promotes long-term benefits to all of us.”
In addition to the Pew Charitable Trusts, the task force will be receiving technical assistance from the Crime and Justice Institute.
“Juvenile justice is an important issue to get right,” Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati said. “I am honored to stand with Pennsylvania’s leaders to make sure we are putting our resources toward what we know works best to keep families strong and put youth back on a law-abiding path.”