The juvenile justice system across the country differs in many ways from the adult system. This difference is by design, as it recognizes a discrepancy in life experiences and brain development. If working correctly, this divide offers young offenders rehabilitation and the opportunity to participate in society regardless if they commit transgressions early on in their lifetime.
While this may sound fair on paper, are our state's juvenile justice systems working as intended? Lawmakers in Pennsylvania think that the answer to that question is “no.”
High Profile Cases Point to Poor Conditions, Shortcomings
One of the things fueling the conversation around juvenile justice reform is the media coverage of the terrible conditions of several youth detention centers across Pennsylvania. Frequently, young people would be sent to these institutions by court order following an offense. Perhaps the most prominent example was the Glen Mills case, where many former residents have spoken of the horrific life-altering abuse they were forced to bear.
But the examples don't end here. At the Delaware County Juvenile Detention Center in Lima, a judge ordered the emptying of the entire facility after horrific accounts of abuse were unearthed. Another residential facility for youth in West Philadelphia, called Wordsworth, was shuttered by the state.
These nightmare accounts have led many to ask whether the system rehabilitates youth and offers them a second chance to be law-abiding citizens.
Bipartisan Task Force Created
Many legal and youth justice professionals working in Pennsylvania have recognized the undeniable need for reform in the criminal justice system. As a result, they have created the Harrisburg-based Juvenile Justice Task Force, which offers 35 data-driven recommendations to the state for ways to improve the youth criminal justice process.
Among the task force's recommendations is the elimination of fees, the raising of the minimum age that youth can be tried in court, and the use of residential placement only for those who pose a serious risk to those around them. In the past, even first-time offenders accused of non-serious offenses were sometimes placed in residential facilities.
The report also insists on ensuring the well-being of every single resident of a state-run facility to avoid a repeat of the awful events of the past. The full recommendations of the task force are available here.
Experiencing the Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice System First-Hand?
If you or your child finds yourself amidst the juvenile justice system in Pennsylvania, you shouldn't have to handle it alone. To ensure the most successful outcome for you and your child, you need an experienced attorney who will fight for you. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are well-equipped to help you as you navigate the juvenile justice system in Pennsylvania. Schedule a consultation by filling out the Firm's online form or calling 888-535-3686.