Philadelphia’s District Attorney has set up new policies for handling juvenile cases.
Larry Krasner says the goal is to avoid removing most young offenders from their families.
“The vast majority of children in the juvenile justice system have not committed serious violent crimes,” he said. “Those children are actually charged and initially at least prosecuted in adult court. The children that these policies seek to help are children who have misdemeanor or low-level felony offenses and are sent to placement for long periods of time for behavioral problems that could be equally or better treated outside the justice system and closer to home.”
Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Center believes the new policies are sound.
“They are effective and rational,” she said. “They are research tested, they are financially sound. They respect and reflect the dignity and humanity of our children.”
Lily, a 16-year-old student who entered the system when she was 13 who spoke says it got harder for her to turn herself around once she was in juvenile detention.
“My mom thought going to a juvenile facility would be good for me,” she said. “She thought I would be safe. She did not realize I would be abused, strip-searched, mistreated or unable to continue my education.”
Lily now is an advocate for reforming the system, through Juveniles for Justice, which is part of the Juvenile Law Center.
She recounted how staff would play favorites, giving extra snacks to some youth while others went hungry.
“I am sharing some really hard things that happened to me because I don’t want them to happen to any other youth,” she said.
Krasner says he expects the move will save millions of dollars now spent on incarceration. He wants to repurpose that money for new programs to help young offenders turn their lives around.