Dec. 16, 2019

HARRISBURG, PA – Gov. Tom Wolf, justices from across Pennsylvania and legislative leaders from the House and Senate jointly announced a new interbranch effort to strengthen Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system.

The newly formed Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Task Force is charged with delivering data-driven policy recommendations to Pennsylvania leaders in a report by Nov. 30, 2020. The recommendations will form the basis for statutory, budgetary, and administrative changes during the 2021-22 legislative session. Task force goals include protecting public safety; ensuring accountability; achieving taxpayer savings and sustained system reinvestment; and improving outcomes for youth, families and communities.

“The partnership we’re creating today is an important step toward protecting vulnerable young Pennsylvanians,” Gov. Wolf said. “With this task force, we can thoroughly review our juvenile justice system and find ways to make lasting change that ensures every young Pennsylvanian is getting the support needed to grow into a successful adult.”

Pennsylvania has long been committed to achieving better juvenile justice outcomes across the three branches of government through entities such as the Juvenile Court Judges Commission and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. Yet challenges remain, and the Commonwealth has one of the highest rates of juvenile commitment in the nation. The task force announced today represents a bipartisan effort to use data and research to build upon past successes and evaluate current challenges.

“Participation in this task force provides an opportunity to assess the treatment of youth who come in contact with the criminal justice system and ultimately to improve the lives of Pennsylvania youth and families,” Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Saylor said. “I look forward to recommendations from this task force that right-size our juvenile justice system and use the best evidence available to ensure taxpayer investments are yielding the public safety results our communities deserve,” Speaker of the House Mike Turzai said.

The members of the task force, to be appointed by the three branches of state government, will represent a wide range of stakeholder groups that include legislators, law enforcement, judges, district attorneys and public defenders. Over the next year, the group will assess the state’s system and review data from court and state agencies, gather input from diverse stakeholders, and examine how current practices can better align with research about what works best to improve youth outcomes.

“This issue touches every corner of our Commonwealth,” House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) added. “Ensuring our juvenile justice system rehabilitates our youngest offenders not only helps create a positive path for them, but also strengthens families, protects communities and promotes long-term benefits to all of us.”

“Better outcomes in Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system will pay dividends for decades to come,” House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) said. “It’s hard work but the effort is well worth it.”

“Juvenile justice is an important issue to get right,” Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-25) said. “I am honored to stand with Pennsylvania’s leaders to make sure we are putting our resources toward what we know works best to keep families strong and put youth back on a law-abiding path.”

“We must work together across party lines and across the branches of government to make sure Pennsylvania is doing all that it can for our young people,” Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-43) said. “This task force will pursue a consensus-based, data-driven process to achieve our goal.”

The task force will receive technical assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Crime and Justice Institute.

Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Mike Straub