HARRISBURG, PA. (WHTM) — Pennsylvania locks up too many kids, often for nonviolent crimes, that is a headline from a juvenile justice report released Tuesday by a task force that’s been studying kids and crime in PA for more than a year.
“This is a very big day for juvenile justice in Pennsylvania,” said Rep. Tarah Toohil (R-Luzerne), Task Force Member.
“To ensure that every young person placed in custody in the commonwealth is safe, treated fairly and receiving a quality education,” said Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Susquehanna/Wayne/Wyoming), Task Force Chair.
Keeping kids out of the system is a goal and community-based or diversionary programs are preferred to court-ordered facilities.
“So that they don’t begin their lives with a record because we all know what challenges and barriers exist when you start your life that way,” said Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia), Minority Leader.
”Racial disparity runs rampant throughout the juvenile justice system,” said Helen Gym, Task Force Member.
Data shows that white youth with more serious offenses, “are more likely to be diverted out of the system, less likely to face charges than black and brown youth who have much more minor charges,” added Gym.
The report calls for a ban on strip searches, solitary confinement and certain restraints. It would also create the Office of Child Advocate and eliminate fines and court costs.
“The demographics show that if you don’t have money in America the justice system is not equal or equitable,” said Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philidelphia/Delaware) Task Force Member. “This is transformative if we apply every recommendation.”
The report calls for changes and cash. That’s usually a tough sell in Harrisburg but both parties and both chambers participated so it’s got a shot.
“We’re talking about kids and in most cases kids who need the most care,” said Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) Speaker of the House, said.
The task force also involved advocates, the courts and the Governor’s Office. Governor Wolf said in a statement “We have to do better by our youth.”