Lawmakers, educators, prosecutors and more will study Pa.’s juvenile justice issues

Governor Tom Wolf says the goal is to make sure more young offenders leave the criminal system and stay out.

The Pennsylvania State Capitol is seen in this file photo. (Amy Sisk/WESA)

The Pennsylvania State Capitol is seen in this file photo. (Amy Sisk/WESA)

Some of the last big changes Pennsylvania made to its juvenile justice system came almost a decade ago, after the “kids for cash” scandal in which judges in Luzerne County took bribes for keeping minors in private detention facilities.

Those reforms made sure kids had defense attorneys at hearings, among other things.

But since then, there have been calls for further change. They’ve mounted in the last year, in the wake of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s reports on systemic physical abuse in Glen Mills, a reform school for boys.

The state has since closed the school.

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But a recent report from the nonprofit Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia urged lawmakers to do more—like cutting down detention terms for children who are under 14, or have committed nonviolent crimes or minor parole violations.

Luzerne County Senator Lisa Baker, a Republican, was one of the eight bipartisan lawmakers named to Wolf’s task force. She said in a statement, she’s especially interested in finding ways to intervene so kids never enter the juvenile justice system.

“This is consistent with what we are trying to do across criminal justice generally, stressing prevention up front and reducing recidivism on the back end,” she said.

Fellow GOP Senator Scott Martin, of Lancaster County, said he is also primarily interested in reducing recidivism. He added, he wants to look at compensating victims and making juvenile justice cheaper, as well.

The 30-member group also includes judges, academics, social workers and city and county officials, among others.

They’ll work with Pew Charitable Trusts on their report, which is due in November.

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