Job Pressure: Critical Racial Variations in Pennsylvania Juvenile Courtroom | Standing
Pennsylvania is incarcerating far too many first-time and subordinate juvenile offenders, with black teens being disproportionately ripped from their homes and prosecuted as adults, according to a task force that made recommendations on reforming the state’s juvenile justice system.
“Serious racial differences permeate the Pennsylvania juvenile justice system,” the bipartisan task force said in its report, adding that changes are urgently needed to make the state’s juvenile justice system fairer and more effective.
A significant percentage of young people who commit a minor crime and are at low risk of relapse are nonetheless removed from their homes and placed in a residential facility, the group found in their 16-month review. The practice is widespread, although research has shown that out-of-home accommodation “is generally not effective in reducing relapses for most teens – and instead may be counterproductive,” the report said.
Policy makers found widespread geographic and racial differences in the treatment of juvenile offenders, with black youths more likely to be removed from their homes and prosecuted in adult courts. Black teens account for 38% of cases in juvenile courts, but 62% of teens arrested prior to judgment and 47% were sent to a residential facility, the report said. The use of detention varied greatly from district to district.
“It was blatant that such racial differences exist,” said Tarah Toohil, R-Alfalfa, member of the task force, at a press conference at the Harrisburg Capitol. “Often there are families who yell at the system to say, ‘Help our family, we are having trouble in many different areas.’ And then this family gets involved in having their child taken away. “
The task force, which included state lawmakers, Democratic government officials Tom Wolf, local officials, and others, made a number of administrative, constitutional, and budgetary recommendations. They include:
– Vigorous expansion of the use of community-based interventions as an alternative to dormitory accommodation.
– Raising the minimum age from which young people can be tried as adults.
– Repeal of a 1995 law that automatically required adult prosecution in more serious cases.
– Elimination of fines and most legal costs and fees.
The group said their plan would reduce the number of young people in residential facilities by nearly 40% in five years and save nearly $ 81 million that could be reinvested in a range of youth services.
“These young people who, frankly, have committed a lot of minor violations … a lot of these kids shouldn’t be like that in the system,” said Senator Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, another member of the task force.
In December 2019, legislative leaders and Wolf formed the task force. The group was tasked with making recommendations on how to make people safer, improve accountability and save tax money. Its members were appointed by Wolf, the judiciary and the legislature.