Updates on the Juvenile Justice Task Force Meeting

Malik Pickett, Esq.,
An image of the state capitol building at Harrisburg, PA.

The next meeting of the Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Task Force is scheduled for today, July 29, 2020 from 3-5 p.m. Look for a future blog summarizing what occurs.

The below information describes the previous Task Force meeting, held on July 15, 2020.  At that meeting, the Task Force provided important updates regarding future meetings and discussed new data.

Future Meetings

The Task Force is planning roundtable meetings with various stakeholder groups, including probation officers, crime victim survivors, district attorneys, judges, and system-affected youth to discuss the current system and potential reforms. Additionally, the Task Force announced that it will add an extra hour for public testimony to every meeting starting at the August 12, 2020 meeting. Later today, members of the public/groups will be able to sign up for slots to testify at those meetings via the Task Force website: http://www.pacourts.us/pa-juvenile-justice-task-force. Individuals who sign up will receive logistical information regarding their testimony in advance of their selected date.

Data Analysis

The Task Force is currently in the data analysis and system assessment phase, in which meetings will focus on data obtained about the various steps in the juvenile justice system process. At the meeting, the Pew Charitable Trusts (Pew) presented data on the beginning stages of a youth’s involvement with the juvenile justice system, starting with allegations of delinquent/criminal behavior, arrest, and pre-adjudication detention. (The July 29, 2020 meeting will focus on data points related to the latter stages of that process including intake, and adjudication.)  The major findings from the data are: (1) racial disparities exist in the youth who receive written allegations and the rates at which youth are detained pre-adjudication and (2) many youth are held in pre-adjudication detention without cause.             

Arrest

The discussion began with general data regarding arrests in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania experienced a 58% decline in youth arrest rate from 2009-2018, which is similar to the national trend. The top five offenses for which youth were arrested were (1) disorderly conduct, (2) curfew and loitering violations, (3) theft, and (4) drug abuse violations. Importantly, Pew highlighted that all of those offenses except for theft, were non-person offenses, meaning that the offenses were not committed against other people.

Written Allegations

Pew then discussed data on written allegations which are documents that contain the alleged delinquent acts. Police officers use written allegations to refer youth to a juvenile probation office, which is the initial step in the juvenile justice system process. In Pennsylvania, written allegations decreased by 47% from 2009-2018. In 2018, felony offenses only accounted for 28% of written allegations, misdemeanors accounted for 50%, and failure to pay a magisterial district court fine accounted for 18%.[1] Among those felony written allegations, 53% were for non-person offenses. Among misdemeanor written allegations, 64% were non-person offenses. The most common written allegation against youths was contempt for non-payment of a magisterial district court fine (18%). Among magisterial district court filings in 2018, disorderly conduct, truancy, and harassment were the most common offenses. In 2018, the average age of youth who were subject to written allegations was 15.5 years.

 The data also highlighted persistent racial inequities in Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system. In 2018, Black Non-Hispanic youth comprised 14% of the youth population in Pennsylvania but comprised 38% of the written allegations. Comparatively, White Non-Hispanic youth comprised 70% of the youth population, but only comprised 45% of the written allegations. This data point highlights one of the many areas where racial disparities exist.    

Pre-Adjudication Detention

Pew then presented data on the next step in the juvenile justice process - pre-adjudication detention. In 2019, 16% of youth with a written allegation referring the youth to Juvenile Court were detained. Robbery, aggravated assault, and theft were the most common offenses causing pre-adjudication detention. The average length of stay in pre-adjudication detention is 17 days. In 2019, Philadelphia youth comprised 43% of statewide pre-adjudication detention admissions, although only comprising 10% of statewide written allegations, and 12% of the statewide youth population. Further illustrating the racial disparities in the system, in 2018, Black Non-Hispanic youth made up 62% of pre-adjudication detention admissions while only making up 38% of written allegations. In contrast, White Non-Hispanic youth only made up 20% of detention admissions, despite comprising 45% of written allegations.

Lastly, Pew discussed data about the Pennsylvania Detention Risk Assessment Instrument (PaDRAI). The PaDRAI evaluates various factors such as the nature of the alleged offense, prior adjudications, history of warrants for failure to appear, and history of escape from custody, and provides a risk score which Juvenile Probation Officers (JPOs) use to help determine whether youth should be detained pending adjudication of the alleged offense. In 2019, JPOs used the PaDRAI in one-third of statewide pre-adjudication detention admissions. Approximately 40% of youth evaluated under the PaDRAI were eligible for release or a detention alternative, and only 19% of youths had a history of warrants for failure to appear, or a history of escape. Despite the PaDRAI’s recommendation that a child be detained or released pending adjudication, JPOs often override that recommendation based on mitigating or aggravating circumstances. In 46% of instances where JPOs overrode the PaDRAI’s recommendation to release a child, the aggravating reason for the override was listed under “other” reasons which were unspecified. These statistics indicate that many youth are held in pre-adjudication detention without cause.         

While this blog only highlighted a few key pieces of data, the PowerPoint slides containing all the data discussed during the meeting are available on the Task Force website: http://www.pacourts.us/pa-juvenile-justice-task-force.

 


[1] The remaining four percent constituted unknown offenses.

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.   

Prior to joining that law firm, Pickett functioned as legislative counsel for the Honorable Pennsylvania State Senators Shirley M. Kitchen and Jay Costa. While at the Pennsylvania Senate