Three years after a task force recommended juvenile justice reform, lawmakers must act to protect Pennsylvania youth | Opinion

Malik Pickett, PennLive •
Juvenile Law Center youth advocates, staff, and external partners in Harrisburg for HB1381

Three years after a bipartisan multi-stakeholder Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Task Force issued pressing recommendations to reform the juvenile justice system, youth in Pennsylvania still desperately need protection.


In December of 2019, former Governor Tom Wolf, Former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor, and General Assembly leaders from both houses and parties convened the Task Force in the wake of abuses youth faced in residential facilities like Glen Mills.  The Task Force comprised 30 juvenile justice stakeholders, including Democratic and Republican legislators, representatives from the Department of Human Services and the Juvenile Court Judges Commission, Juvenile Court Judges, and Assistant District Attorneys, who all understood that our juvenile justice system needed reform.  For the next year, the Task Force intensively studied every stage of Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system.  They discovered that: (1) too many youth enter the system for minor offenses (non-payment of magisterial district court fines is the main driver of youth entering the juvenile justice system), (2) courts severely underutilize diversion despite its overwhelming success rate (diversion programs have an 80% success rate, but are only used in about 35% of cases), (3) racial disparities plague the system, with Black and Brown youth facing much worse outcomes at every stage of the system compared to white youth, even for similar offenses. 


With that backdrop, the bipartisan Task Force created 35 common-sense recommendations for reform that would make Pennsylvania safer for all youth. The 30 Task Force members intensely debated all of these provisions to ensure they were tailored to alleviate the issues facing the system.  They released their recommendations in a final report in June of 2021. Advocates hoped that these reforms would be introduced as legislation in an omnibus bill and traverse through the legislative process (not as daunting given that Democratic and Republican Leaders from the House and Senate served on the Task Force). The Task Force report projected the reforms would create over $81 million in savings for Pennsylvania over a 5-year period.


Almost three years later, the need for these reforms grows more pressing each day. 



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.