May 14-DALLAS - State Sen. Lisa Baker Thursday said making substantial and impactful changes to long-held policies requires comprehensive examination and focus.
"It is critical that we hold juveniles accountable for their actions, but also put in place policies that offer the chance for positive growth," said Baker, R-Lehman Township. "From the beginning, the issue of reforming Pennsylvania's juvenile justice system has been a joint, bi-partisan effort. No matter if young people live in rural, suburban, or urban areas of our state, the system and processes in place should be fair and equipped with the tools to strengthen families and reduce recidivism rates."
Legislation to strengthen Pennsylvania's juvenile justice system is set for action according to Sen. Baker, Sen. Steve Santarsiero, D-10, and Sen. Jay Costa, D-43, who have been working to implement reforms needed to improve outcomes for youth, families, and communities, with a continued focus on protecting public safety.
The Senators are advancing a package of bills intended to achieve taxpayer savings that can then be reinvested to implement more effective research-based policies. The effort includes changes to standardize the expungement process and shorten the timeline for eligibility in certain cases, and provide funding for alternative sentencing and juvenile defense expenses.
Last year, Pennsylvania's Juvenile Justice Task Force issued its Juvenile Justice Task Force Report containing 35 policy recommendations following a comprehensive review of current practices. The 30-member panel assessed the state's juvenile justice system and reviewed data from court and state agencies and examined how current practices can better align with what research says works best.
Sen. Baker, who leads the Senate Judiciary Committee and co-chaired the Juvenile Justice Task Force, said a public hearing will be held on May 23 to give proponents and opponents a final chance to comment on the reforms before full committee action.
"These bills will help ensure that all juveniles are treated fairly during all stages of their interactions with the justice system," said Sen. Santarsiero. "The justice system should not create a permanent impediment to the success of the juvenile offender after their debt to society has been paid. Together, this package of bills will help youth in the juvenile justice system move smoothly and justly through the process and give them a chance at success in the future."
Sen. Costa said he is proud to join his senate colleagues on the introduction of these bills as well as other recommendations of the task force being introduced.
"It is the beginning of a process that will include the review of the proposals by several committees as well as both houses of the General Assembly," Costa said. "I look forward to working with all of the sponsors, task force members and other stakeholders on improving our juvenile justice system."
The specific bills introduced in this package are:
Senate Bill 1227 - Addresses JJTF Recommendation 2, by amending the Human Services Code to include both juvenile justice and child welfare funding goals.
Senate Bill 1229 - Addresses JJTF Recommendation 5, by amending the Human Services Code to provide funding for indigent juvenile defense services.
Senate Bill 1228 - Addresses JJTF Recommendation 16, by keeping youth in out-of-home placement no longer than the time-frame supported by research.
Senate Bill 1226 - Addresses JJTF Recommendation 23, by creating a standardized statewide expungement process.
Reach Bill O'Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.