Juvenile Justice Task Force Update: September 30, 2020

Malik Pickett,
PA State Capitol Building, Harrisburg, PA.

Upcoming Meetings

The next meeting of the Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Task Force is scheduled for Wednesday, October 14, 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 October 14, 2020 meeting will feature a presentation on scientific research on youth development, and data on the education of youth involved in the juvenile justice system. Additionally, youth from several advocacy organizations, including Juvenile Law Center, will be providing testimony about their recommendations for the juvenile justice system. Look for a future blog summarizing what occurs.

Subgroup Meetings

October 14, 2020 will be the final Task Force meeting regarding data.  Following that meeting, the Task Force will transition to subgroups, during which the Task Force will meet in smaller groups to discuss specific topics related to the juvenile justice system.  The goal of those meetings is to discuss potential policy recommendations that will be included in the final report.  These meetings will not be public, but Pew Charitable Trusts (Pew) staff will draft executive summaries of the information discussed and will post the summaries to the Task Force website.

Data Analysis

As you will recall, Pew has been presenting on data related to the different stages in the juvenile justice system. The September 30, 2020 meetingfocused on data related to fines, fees, costs and restitution, and youth charged as adults. (For a summary of the data presented on placement, please see our previous blog discussing the September 9, 2020 meeting.)

The major findings from the data are: (1) there are significant racial disparities in the youth that are charged/convicted as adults, (2) costs/fees represent the largest portion of financial obligations assessed against youth, and (3) the total amount of costs/fees assessed has increased 12% since 2009. 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.

  1. Fines, Fees, Costs, and Restitution

As background, a juvenile court judge may assess fines, fees, costs, and restitution (collectively referred to as financial obligations) on a youth in several instances. A judge may impose financial obligations if a youth’s case is diverted through informal adjustment, a diversion program, or consent decree. Additionally, a judge may impose financial obligation pursuant to probation or placement after a youth is adjudicated delinquent.

In 2018, among the cases where youth were assessed financial obligations, fees/costs were included 77% of the time, restitution 16% of the time, and fines 7% of the time. The total amount of fees/costs assessed was $2,068,438, the total amount of fines assessed was $110,242, and the total amount of restitution assessed was $2,336,007.  Fees ranged from $1 to $6,370, and the average amount of fees assessed was $173.  Fines ranged from $1 to $750, and the average amount of fines assessed was $76. Restitution ranged from $1 to $118,840 and the average amount of restitution assessed was $964. Comparatively, in 2009, the average amount of fees assessed was $152, the average amount of fines assessed was $76, and the average amount of restitution assessed was $944.

  1. Youth Charged as Adults

In Pennsylvania, there are several different avenues whereby youth can be charged as adults: direct file through a statutory exclusion from the juvenile justice system, or transfer from the juvenile to the adult system through the discretionary or presumptive transfer process.    

  1. Statutory Exclusion/Direct File

Youth who meet certain statutory criteria are automatically excluded from juvenile court jurisdiction and therefore have to be tried in adult court. Youth of any age who are either charged with murder or charged with any subsequent delinquent act after previously being charged as an adult, are automatically charged as adults. Additionally, youth who are 15 or older and charged with certain crimes including robbery, rape, and kidnapping, if committed with a deadly weapon, are also automatically charged as adults. Finally, youth who are charged with summary offenses are also automatically charged as adults. Youth can request a transfer to juvenile court, but the youth has the burden to prove that the transfer would benefit the public interest.

  1. Transfer From Juvenile Court to Adult Court

Youth 14 or older who are charged with a felony can be transferred from juvenile court to adult court pending a transfer hearing.  Any party at any time before an adjudication of delinquency can initiate the transfer hearing. At a normal transfer hearing, the district attorney has the burden of proof and must show why the transfer will serve the public interest. However, there is a presumptive transfer for youth who are 14 or older and charged with specific felony offenses committed with a deadly weapon, and youth who are 15 or older and charged with specific felony offenses if they have a prior felony adjudication. In situations of a presumptive transfer, the youth has the burden of proof, and must show why the transfer will not serve the public interest.  In determining whether a transfer will benefit public interest, a court considers factors such as the offense’s impact on victims and the community, the youth’s threat to public safety, the nature and circumstances of the offense, the youth’s degree of culpability, the adequacy of alternative dispositions, and the youth’s amenability to treatment/rehabilitation.   

  1. Data Related to Youth Charged as Adults Generally

Pew presented data tracking youth who were transferred to adult court or whose cases were directly filed in adult court because of a statutory exclusion.  The number of youth in Pennsylvania charged in adult court, who were not ultimately decertified, decreased 56% over the last decade from 752 in 2009 to 332 in 2018.  Of the 332 charged in adult court in 2018, 267 were direct file youth, and 65 were transferred from juvenile court. In Philadelphia, the number of youth charged as adults decreased from 339 in 2009 to 59 in 2018. In 2018, 158 youth were decertified from adult court to juvenile court through decertification hearings. Regarding youth who were charged as adults statewide, 58% of their cases were dismissed, withdrawn, or decertified, and 40% of the cases resulted in conviction. Among youth convicted in adult court, 77% were incarcerated, and 16% received probation.     

As with the other aspects of the juvenile justice system, racial disparities exist in the youth who are charged/convicted as adults. In 2018, Black Non-Hispanic males accounted for 7% of Pennsylvania’s youth population (ages 10-17) but 56% of youth charged and convicted as adults.  Hispanic males accounted for 6% of Pennsylvania’s youth population but 15% of youth charged and convicted as adults.  However, White Non-Hispanic males accounted for 36% of Pennsylvania’s youth population, but only 21% of youth charged and convicted as adults. 

  1. Statutory Exclusion Data
  1. Minor Courts

The following data points relate to youth who had cases filed in a Minor Court because of a statutory exclusion that prevented their case from being filed in juvenile court and required a direct file in the adult system. For purposes of this section, Minor Courts include Magisterial District Courts and Philadelphia Municipal Court.  In 2018, Robbery (38%), Aggravated Assault (24%), and Criminal Homicide (10%) represented the three most common offenses among statutory exclusion filings. Approximately 25% of statutory exclusion cases were dismissed or withdrawn, down from 45% in 2009. In 2018, the average length of time from statutory exclusion filing to dismissal or withdraw was one month.  Approximately 49% of youth with statutory exclusion filings were 17 years of age, 29% were 16, and 21% were 15. 

Regarding racial demographics for Minor Courts, in 2018, Black youth represented 38% of written allegations, but 62% of statutory exclusion filings to Minor Courts, while white youth represented 45% of written allegations, but only 22% of statutory exclusion filings.  Black Non-Hispanic males represented 7% of Pennsylvania youth population aged 10-17, but 57% of statutory exclusion filings to Minor Courts. Hispanic males represented 6% of Pennsylvania youth aged 10-17, but 15% of statutory exclusion filings to Minor Courts. White males represented 36% of Pennsylvania youth aged 10-17, but only 20% of statutory exclusion filings to Minor Courts.   

  1. Court of Common Pleas

These data points relate to youth who had cases filed in a Court of Common Pleas because of a statutory exclusion that prevented their case from being filed in juvenile court and required direct file in the adult system. In 2018, the average length of time from offense to case filing in a Court of Common Pleas in statutory exclusion cases was 26 months, that figure was only 10 months in 2009. Almost 65% of statutory exclusion cases resulted in convictions, and 14% were dismissed.  Among cases in which statutorily excluded charges resulted in conviction, robbery (37%), aggravated assault (13%), murder (6%), and indecent assault (6%) were the top offenses charged. Among statutory exclusion cases with convictions, 97% were obtained through guilty pleas.  The average length of time from filing to sentence was nine months. In 2018, 77% of youth convicted through statutory exclusions were sentenced to confinement (down from 91% in 2009), and 14% were sentenced to probation. The average minimum confinement sentence for statutory exclusion cases was 27 months. 

Regarding racial demographics, Black Non-Hispanic males represented only 7% of Pennsylvania youth aged 10-17, but 52% of statutory exclusion filings in a Court of Common Pleas.  Hispanic males represented only 6% of Pennsylvania youth, but 19% of statutory exclusion filings in a Court of Common Pleas. 

  1. Data Regarding Transfer to Criminal Court

The following data relates to youth whose cases were transferred from juvenile court to an adult court via a transfer hearing. Transfer filings and transfer dispositions decreased 60% from 2009 (216 transfer filings/155 transfer dispositions) to 2018 (86 transfer filings/65 transfer dispositions). Philadelphia saw an 80% decrease in transfer dispositions from 2009 to 2018. In Pennsylvania, the average length of time from the filing of a written allegation to transfer was four months, which is up from two months in 2009. In 2018, 70% of youth designated for transfer to adult court were ultimately transferred, which is up from 62% in 2009. Possession with intent to deliver drugs, theft-related offenses, and firearm-related offenses were the most common offenses receiving transfer filings and for which adult dispositions were ultimately received. In 2018, 87% of youth transferred to adult court were age 17, 8% were 16, and 5% were 15. Approximately 90% of cases transferred to criminal court resulted in convictions; 97% of those convictions involved guilty pleas. The average length of time from filing to sentence in transfer cases was 6 months, which was down from 7 months in 2009. Almost 75% of youth convicted in transfer cases were sentenced to confinement, and 20% received probation. Youth whose cases resulted in convictions after transfer spent an average of one year in confinement after conviction.

Regarding racial disparities, in 2018, Black Non-Hispanic youth accounted for 38% of written allegations, but 55% of transfers to criminal court.  White youth accounted for 45% of written allegations, but only 28% of transfers to criminal court. 

Please stay tuned to our website, www.jlc.org, as we will continue to provide updates on the Task Force process.

 

 

 

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. 

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