WASHINGTON (June 23, 2021)––On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Task Force released a report that examined the state’s juvenile justice system and included 35 recommendations for reform. The report was conducted over 16 months and includes research on best practices and input from hundreds of citizens, judges, attorneys and law enforcement. The authors included 35 policy recommendations, which include less emphasis on payment of fines and restitution and more narrow criteria for trying youth as adults in criminal court. Projections from the Task Force, if its recommendations are implemented, noted that the state could “reduce the out-of-home placement population by 39 percent by 2026” and save $81 million over the same time period.

“It should come as no surprise that juveniles make mistakes,” added R Street Institute Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties Policy Director Jillian E. Snider. “Often, they commit minor offenses that are not fully within their control. From a criminological perspective, we understand that there are various contributing factors that may cause a juvenile to offend, but research indicates that the majority of juveniles are one-time, low-level offenders. Because of this, the current punitive model of juvenile justice may be futile as arrest and out-of-home placement does little to deter recidivism. The Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Task Force recommendations include a variety of thoughtful and promising reforms that should be a model for us all.”

“This report highlights the best way to prepare for the legislative process and members of the Task Force should be commended. It would be hard to imagine gathering input from a better mix of professionals who touch every point in the criminal justice system. Every state should pay attention to this process and the recommendations they have released,” said Alan Smith, Midwest Director for the R Street Institute.

As R Street has concluded in its own research, young people are particularly well suited for rehabilitation and most justice-involved individuals will eventually return to their communities. Any justice system they are a part of should therefore emphasize rehabilitation and education in order to keep them out of the adult criminal system. This is a critical step in reducing the number of young people in the juvenile system, helping them return to their families and saving taxpayer dollars. Involvement in the juvenile justice system should not be a sentence to a life lived in the adult criminal justice system.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has produced a blueprint that is laudable for both process and its policy recommendations. We hope that these recommendations can be speedily enacted.