Juvenile Justice Task Force Meeting Recap

Malik Pickett,
lady justice statue

Upcoming Meetings

The next meeting of the Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Task Force is scheduled for today, Wednesday, September 9, 2020 from 3-5 p.m., and can be viewed on the Task Force website: http://www.pacourts.us/pa-juvenile-justice-task-force. The September 9, 2020 meeting will focus on data related to juvenile justice placements.   Look for a future blog summarizing what occurs.

As mentioned in our previous blogs, the Task Force has added an extra hour for public testimony to all meetings.  The link to sign up to testify is still available on the Task Force website. Currently, testimony is limited to five minutes per person, and there is a limit on the number of individuals that can testify per meeting.  Keep in mind that Task Force member attendance during the extra hour of public testimony is voluntary.

Data Analysis

As you will recall, Pew Charitable Trusts (Pew) has been presenting on data related to the different stages in the juvenile justice system. The August 12, 2020 meeting focused on data related to the disposition option of probation. (For a summary of the data presented on the intake and adjudication stages of the process, please see our previous blog discussing the July 29, 2020 meeting.)

The major findings from the data are: (1) training varies among juvenile court judges and Juvenile Probation Officers (JPOs), but many JPOs report not receiving implicit bias training, (2) racial disparities exist both in the rates of those who receive probation and the length of probation. Pew obtained the data in this meeting through questionnaires sent to 61 juvenile court judges (42% response rate) and 684 JPOs (56% response rate) encompassing all counties in the state.  While this blog only highlights a few key pieces of data, the PowerPoint slides containing all the data discussed during the meeting are available on the Task Force website.

Disposition Options

After a delinquency ruling, a juvenile court judge can order a combination of different disposition options, including probation supervision, commitment, and fines, fees, costs, or restitution.  Once a judge orders probation, a JPO develops a case plan outlining goals and activities for the youth during the supervision.  The terms and conditions of the supervision differ depending on the county. 


Training among juvenile court judges and JPOs is not uniform, as training differs across counties. Juvenile court judge respondents reported a range of training in various areas, the most popular being trauma-informed approaches, risks and needs assessment, and rules of juvenile court procedures.  84% of juvenile court judges reported implicit bias training.  JPOs also receive training in various areas; the most popular being risks and needs assessment, case planning, and motivational interviewing.  However, only 17% of JPO respondents reported receiving implicit bias training.  The lack of implicit bias training for JPOs is alarming given the amount of discretion and power they have in the juvenile justice system.  As will be discussed below, racial disparities pervade every aspect of probation. 

Fines and Fees

Pew presenters then transitioned into a discussion of the impact of fines, fees, and restitution on a youth’s case.  JPOs must notify the court when a youth satisfies the probation terms and pays any applicable restitution, fines, and costs.  Judges differ as to whether they close a youth’s case if the youth fulfills the terms of probation but still owes fines and fees.  25% of judges stated that the youth will remain under court jurisdiction until full payment of the fines and fees, 23% stated that they will close the case and any financial obligations will be converted into a civil judgment, 20% stated that the case will be closed, and 32% stated that “it depends.”  If restitution is unpaid, 30% of judges stated that the youth will remain under court jurisdiction, 23% stated that the case will be closed, 25% stated that the case will be closed and the unpaid portion will be converted into a civil judgment or sent to collections, and 16% stated that “it depends”. 

Technical Probation Violations

If a youth fails to meet any of the many conditions and terms of probation (termed a technical probation violation), a JPO can impose sanctions or file a motion to modify or revoke the probation order.  Upon a motion to modify or revoke the probation order, the court must hold a hearing, and if a violation is found, the judge can modify the terms of probation or revoke the probation and use another disposition option.  The most common sanctions for technical probation violations include: electronic monitoring/house arrest, earlier curfew, and increased frequency of meetings. Over 90% of JPOs reported using those options.  61% of JPO respondents indicated using detention, 50% reported using non-secure placements, and 39% indicated using secure placements. 

Probation Disposition

Among those youth whom juvenile court judges adjudicate delinquent as a first option  (before utilizing any other means to dispose of the case such as diversion), 66% receive probation, 20% are placed, and 14% receive another disposition.  The top offenses for which youth receive probation as a first response are misdemeanor/non-person offenses including simple assault, theft-related offenses, and terroristic threats. 

As in previous meetings, Pew again presented data gathered from the Youth Level of Service (YLS) risk assessment tool.  In terms of risk level, 43% of youth who receive probation as a first option score low risk to re-offend, and 10% score as high or very high risk.  The YLS tool also provides information on “criminogenic needs” which are factors and characteristics that some juvenile court judges and JPO’s believe relate to a youth’s likelihood to re-offend.  Sample criminogenic needs include substance abuse, lack of education/employment, family circumstances, and personality/behavior. Leisure/recreation is the most common criminogenic need for youth who score high on YLS and receive probation as a first option.  Lack of education/employment is the most common criminogenic need for youth who score moderate on YLS and receive probation as a first option. Family circumstance is the most common criminogenic need for youth who score low on the YLS and receive probation as a first option.

Racial disparities persist in the probation context as Black Non-Hispanic youth are less likely to receive probation than White Non-Hispanic youth, although Black Non-Hispanic youth represent a higher percentage of adjudications.  In 2018, Black Non-Hispanic youth represented 41% of adjudications, but only 34% of those who received probation as a first option.  White Non-Hispanic youth represented 40% of adjudications, but represented 47% of those who received probation as a first option.  This data indicates that placement options are used more frequently for Black Non-Hispanic youth than for White Non-Hispanic youth.

Length of Probation and Court Supervision

Pew lastly discussed data related to the length of probation and court supervision and highlighted the stark racial disparities. The average length of probation for a youth who receives probation as a first option is 13 months. This figure varies according to race.  In 2018, Black Non-Hispanic youth spent an average of 14 months on probation, while White Non-Hispanic youth only spent an average of 11 months.  Hispanic Females averaged the longest time on probation with 15 months.  Black Non-Hispanic youth spend more time under court supervision as a whole where probation is the initial court response (no pre-disposition diversion options were used before the probation disposition).  In 2018, Black Non-Hispanic youth spent an average of 19 months under court supervision, Hispanic youth spent an average of 18 months, and White Non-Hispanic youth spent an average of 16 months. 

This data continues to highlight the common thread that racial disparities exist throughout every stage in the juvenile justice system process.  Please stay tuned to our Twitter (@JuvLaw1975), Instagram (@juvlaw1975), and Facebook (@JuvenileLawCenter), as we will be releasing infographics regarding the racial disparities in the system.


About the Expert
Malik Pickett is a staff attorney at Juvenile Law Center who joined the organization in 2020. He advocates for the rights of youth in the juvenile justice system through litigation, amicus and policy advocacy efforts. Prior to joining Juvenile Law Center, Pickett worked as an associate attorney with the law firm of Wade Clark Mulcahy, LLP where he litigated personal injury and construction defect cases and as a legislative counsel for the Honorable Pennsylvania State Senators Shirley M. Kitchen and Jay Costa.