Pennsylvania H.B. 1381 promotes limited, effective government by expanding diversion and reducing juvenile detention
Logan Seacrest, Resident Fellow, Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties, R Street Institute
In SUPPORT of H.B. 1381, “An Act amending Title 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in juvenile matters.”
September 27, 2023
Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee
Chairman Briggs and members of the committee,
My name is Logan Seacrest, and I am a fellow in the Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties program at the R Street Institute (R Street), a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization. Our mission is to engage in policy research and outreach to promote free markets and limited, effective government. This is why H.B. 1381 is of special interest to us.
H.B. 1381 is the culmination of years of work by the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s bipartisan Juvenile Justice Task Force. Along the way, R Street has participated in meetings, commented on findings and submitted testimony. We are pleased to see the hard work of the task force finally coming to fruition.
Last year, more than 19,000 children had some type of contact with the Pennsylvania criminal justice system. Two-thirds of these contacts were for misdemeanors and technical violations, such as missing a probation appointment, staying out past curfew or failing to pay a court fee. Too often, these minor infractions result in kids being removed from their homes.
H.B. 1381 recognizes that most young people in the Pennsylvania juvenile system have not committed a serious crime, have little or no prior history of delinquency, and do not score as high risk to reoffend. The bill prioritizes diverting young people from formal system involvement, mitigating the negative downstream effects associated with an arrest. From a first-principles perspective, one of the core strengths of this legislation is its focus on early intervention, which enables benefits to compound over time. Think of it like fixing a leaky faucet before it breaks, instead of having to mop up a flooded house.
Despite evidence that they work, deflection and diversion remain underutilized in Pennsylvania. Instead, youth with low-level cases and first offenses end up on probation and in residential detention. Like other states, out-of-home placements in Pennsylvania are outrageously expensive, costing on average of $192,720 annually per child for state-run residential facilities and $107,468 for privately run residential facilities. This consumes a growing proportion of the juvenile justice budget, even though research indicates keeping children at home is more cost effective.
In addition, the majority of youth in the juvenile justice system have some form of psychiatric or substance abuse disorder. For many, contact with the justice system may provide the first opportunity they have ever had to access behavioral health support. By establishing sensible statewide criteria that take severity of offense, risk profile and prior history into account, H.B. 1381 brings Pennsylvania in line with mainstream, evidence-based juvenile justice practices.
The best way to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline is to keep kids out of the juvenile justice system entirely. By allowing more children to remain in their homes where they belong, H.B. 1381 will help maintain the social and educational ties crucial to avoiding further system involvement. It is an important step toward creating a better juvenile justice system for all Pennsylvanians.
Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties
R Street Institute
 Noella Sudbury, “Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Justice Task Force can help the state’s youth and save money,” The Center Square, July 6, 2021. https://www.thecentersquare.com/opinion/op-ed-pennsylvanias-juvenile-justice-task-force-can-help-the-states-youth-and-save-money/article_7bed0c7a-de6c-11eb-b04f-13415d5d2d82.html; Sarah Anderson, “In SUPPORT of Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Task Force Report & Recommendations,” R Street Institute, May 23, 2022. https://www.rstreet.org/outreach/in-support-of-pennsylvania-juvenile-justice-task-force-report-recommendations.
 Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission, 2022 Juvenile Court Annual Report, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, June 2023, p. 1. https://www.jcjc.pa.gov/Research-
 Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Task Force, “Report & Recommendations,” Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, June 2021, p. 4. https://www.pacourts.us/Storage/media/pdfs/20210622/152647-
 Logan Seacrest, “Data-Driven Deflection: A Systems Approach to Reducing Juvenile Arrests,” R Street Institute, June 8, 2023. https://www.rstreet.org/research/data-driven-deflection-a-systems-approach-to-reducing-juvenile-arrests.
 Sarah Anderson et al., “Overview of Juvenile Deflection in the United States: A State-by-State Comparison,” R Street Policy Study No. 263, Sept. 7, 2022. https://www.rstreet.org/research/overview-of-juvenile-deflection-in-the-united-states-a-state-by-state-comparison; Marc Hyden and Steven Greenhut, “How Juvenile Justice
‘Deflection’ Programs Reduce Crime and Save Money,” R Street Shorts No. 116, Sept. 12, 2022. https://www.rstreet.org/research/how-juvenile-justice-deflection-programs-reduce-crime-and-save-money.
 Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Task Force, p. 24. https://www.pacourts.us/Storage/media/pdfs/20210622/152647-
 Richard Mendel, “Why Youth Incarceration Fails: An Updated Review of the Evidence,” The Sentencing Project, March 1, 2023. https://www.sentencingproject.org/reports/why-youth-incarceration-fails-an-updated-review-of-the-evidence.
 Lee A. Underwood and Aryssa Washington, “Mental Illness and Juvenile Offenders,” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 13:2 (Feb. 18, 2016).