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Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform | PA

Pennsylvania: 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 



  • Juvenile Defense and Court Process — Youth Receive Settlement from Contractor in Luzerne County Scandal: A second set of youth and families involved in the “kids for cash” scandal in Luzerne County reached a partial settlement with the companies who ran the detention centers where the youth were sent. In 2011, former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella was convicted of receiving bribes from the companies in exchange for sending youth to their facilities. According to the settlement, the families will receive a total of $2.5 million. H.T. et al. v. Mark A. Ciavarella, Jr., et al., Civil Action No. 3:09-cv-0357, settlement reached October 17, 2013; order entered July 7, 2014.
  • Sex Offender Laws and Registries — Pennsylvania Court Finds Juvenile Sex Offender Registration Law Unconstitutional: The York County Court of Common Pleas found Pennsylvania’s recently enacted law requiring youth convicted of sexual offenses to register as sex offenders for life to be in violation of their constitutional rights. The court held that the requirement violated both the United States and Pennsylvania constitutions, as well as Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Act. The court stated that such registration requirements are antithetical to the rehabilitative purpose of juvenile courts and do not take into account key differences between youth and adults, especially with regard to culpability and prospects for reform. The ruling banned application of the law both retroactively and prospectively, immediately declassified as “sex offenders” the seven petitioners who brought the challenge, and ordered the Pennsylvania State Police to immediately remove the seven youth from the state registry. Decided November 4, 2013; affirmed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court December 2014.

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  • Adjudication and Sentencing — Pennsylvania Courts Must Justify Disposition Determinations, Including Reasons for Out-of-Home Placement of Youth: Prior to entering a disposition for a youth, Pennsylvania judges must now state the disposition and the reason for the disposition on the record in open court. Judges must explain the goals, terms, and conditions of the disposition, and, if a youth is sentenced to out-of-home placement, the judge must explain the specifics regarding the facility to which the youth is committed; what findings provide the basis for the commitment; and why such a placement was determined to be the “least restrictive placement that is consistent with the protection of the public and best suited to the child’s treatment, supervision, rehabilitation and welfare.” S.B. 818/Act No. 22, signed into law and effective April 3, 2012.
  • Adjudication and Sentencing — Pennsylvania Eliminates Mandatory Life-Without-Parole Sentences for Youth: Youth in Pennsylvania may no longer receive mandatory life-without-parole sentences for offenses committed when under age 18. The law—Pennsylvania’s move to come into compliance with Miller v. Alabama — provides alternative minimum sentences ranging from 20 years to life to 35 years to life, depending on the offense and the youth’s age. In determining whether to sentence a youth to life without parole, courts must consider age-related characteristics of the youth, including, age, maturity, mental capacity, and prior history. S.B. 850/Act No. 204, signed into law and effective October 25, 2012.
  • Alternatives to Detention and Youth Prisons — Legislature Encourages Use of Evidence-Based Practice and Least Restrictive Interventions: In another move to address the Luzerne County “kids for cash” scandal, the Pennsylvania General Assembly amended the purpose clause of the Juvenile Act. The new clause states that the juvenile justice system must use evidence-based practices whenever possible. Additionally, courts must impose the “least restrictive intervention that is consistent with the protection of the community, the imposition of accountability for the offenses committed and the rehabilitation, supervision and treatment needs of the child,” imposing confinement only if necessary and for the minimum amount of time to achieve the purposes of the act. S.B. 850/Act No. 204, signed into law and effective October 25, 2012.
  • Alternatives to Detention and Youth Prisons — Pennsylvania Establishes Justice Reinvestment Fund: The Pennsylvania General Assembly established the Justice Reinvestment Fund, funded by savings accrued to the Department of Corrections from reductions in the state’s prison population, increased diversion of adults convicted of low-level offenses, and improved efficiencies in the parole system. For the 2013-14 fiscal year, 75 percent of the total calculated savings from the prior fiscal year were allocated to the fund. A portion of the fund must be spent on programs for youth in the justice system. The legislation authorizes continued funding, at a lower percentage, through fiscal year 2017-18. H.B. 135, signed into law October 25, 2012; effective December 24, 2012.
  • Interrogations and Confessions — Pennsylvania Court Rules Allow Admissions Only After Thorough Colloquies: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court modified its rules regarding admissions made by youth in delinquency cases. The court adopted a mandated admissions colloquy. Attorneys must now review the standard colloquy form with their youth clients prior to entering the courtroom. If the attorney believes that his or her client does not understand the form, the attorney may not allow the youth to make an admission. The court must then conduct an independent inquiry to determine whether the admission was made in accordance with the rules. Rule 407, amended January 18, 2012; effective April 1, 2012.
  • Juvenile Defense and Court Process — Legislature Requires Greater Accountability for Juvenile Court System: The Pennsylvania General Assembly increased the responsibilities of the Juvenile Court Judge’s Commission to ensure accountability for effective and efficient administration of the juvenile court system. The commission must collect and analyze data to identify trends and to determine the effectiveness of programs and practices, make recommendations concerning evidence-based programs and practices to judges, and post related information on the commission’s public website. H.B. 1546/Act No. 42, signed into law May 17, 2012; effective July 16, 2012.
  • Juvenile Defense and Court Process — Pennsylvania Bans Indiscriminate Shackling of Youth in Court: A new law in Pennsylvania requires that restraints be removed from youth prior to court proceedings. The law provides for exceptions if the court makes a determination—on the record and with the input of the youth—that restraints are necessary to prevent physical harm to the youth or another person; to prevent disruptive courtroom behavior, given evidence of prior potentially harmful behavior; or to prevent the youth from fleeing, provided there is evidence of risk of escape. S.B. 817/Act No. 56, signed into law May 29, 2012; effective July 28, 2012.
  • Juvenile Defense and Court Process — Pennsylvania Guarantees Right to Counsel for Youth: Spurred by the 2007 “kids-for-cash” scandal in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania now requires all youth to be represented by counsel in delinquency cases. All children are presumed indigent, and the court must appoint counsel for youth who are not represented. Youth over age 14 may waive their right to counsel only at certain hearings and only following a judicial colloquy that determines the waiver is made knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. However, youth must be represented by counsel at detention hearings; transfer hearings; adjudicatory hearings; evidentiary hearings related to the need for treatment, supervision, rehabilitation; disposition hearings; and hearings to modify or revoke probation or an existing disposition. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court also amended the Rules of Juvenile Court Procedure, requiring legal representation for youth in juvenile court proceedings. Most notably, the rule permits waiver of legal representation by children who are at least 14 years of age only in specific situations and even then, the waiver must meet the court’s scrutiny. S.B. 815/Act No. 23, signed into law April 9, 2012; effective June 8, 2012 and Rule 152, amended January 11, 2012; effective March 1, 2012.

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  • Juvenile Defense and Court Process — Supreme Court Declares All Juveniles Indigent for Purposes of Appointment of Counsel: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted a new juvenile court procedural rule that declares all juveniles to be presumed indigent, thereby giving all youth the right to an attorney appointed by the court. The court rule forbids the consideration of a parent or guardian’s income, stating that “there is an inherent risk that the legal protections afforded juveniles could be eroded by making legal representation dependent upon the limited financial resources of their guardians, particularly where guardians have an income just above the poverty guidelines.” Rule 151, adopted May 16, 2011; effective July 1, 2011.
  • Juvenile Defense and Court Process — Supreme Court Sharply Limits Shackling of Youth in Court: A new Pennsylvania Supreme Court rule prohibits using restraints on youth in court with limited exceptions. Restraints may only be used if the court determines on the record—after giving the youth an opportunity to be heard—that restraints are necessary to prevent: 1) physical harm to the youth or another person; 2) disruptive courtroom behavior, which must be backed by evidence of dangerous behavior in the past; or 3) the youth’s escape, evidenced by an escape history or other relevant factors. The rule “highly discourages” the use of any restraints, and states that the routine use of restraints on youth is contrary to the philosophy of balanced and restorative justice and undermines the goal of rehabilitation. Rule 139, adopted April 26, 2011; effective June 1, 2011.
  • Adjudication and Sentencing — Supreme Court Issues Rule Mandating Least Restrictive Disposition for Youth: When out-of-home placement is deemed to be necessary for a youth, courts in Pennsylvania must now explain why they are placing the youth outside of the home and why the placement is the least restrictive type of placement that is consistent with the protection of the public and the rehabilitation needs of the child. The rule reflects Pennsylvania law that requires the least restrictive placement of youth (42 Pa.C.S. § 6352), and further requires courts to explain in their dispositional orders why there are no less restrictive alternatives available. Rules 512, 1240, 1242, and 1512, adopted April 29, 2011; effective July 1, 2011.

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  • Organizational and Large-Scale Change — Stakeholders Adopt Plan to Improve Services for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System: In November 2010, the Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission, Pennsylvania Council of Chief Juvenile Probation Officers and Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Committee of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency adopted a new statewide plan to employ evidence-based practices, with fidelity, at every stage of the juvenile justice process; increase collection and analysis of data; and improve the quality of decisions, services, and programs.
  • Juvenile Defense and Court Process — State Establishes Models to Reform Indigent Defense: Because Pennsylvania’s indigent defense system differs by county, there is no statewide solution to improving representation of youth. However, due in part to Pennsylvania’s participation in the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Committee, working with the Juvenile Defenders Association of Pennsylvania, provided funding for model juvenile defense units. Through this competitive grant process, the initiative allows participating counties to develop their own strategies to meet the requirements for effective representation of youth. These model counties then become examples for other jurisdictions of similar size or with similar needs. In the first year of the program, Luzerne County and Dauphin County received funding under the program. The goal is for additional counties—of different sizes and with different structures—to join the program in the second year of funding.
  • Organizational and Large-Scale Change — Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice Calls for Reform: Pennsylvania’s Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice—which was created in the wake of the 2009 judicial scandal in Luzerne County—issued its final report in May 2010, calling for numerous reforms, including creation of a statewide juvenile justice victim advocate; re-examination of the code of judicial conduct and operations of the Judicial Conduct Board; increased training for judges, masters, prosecutors and public defenders; creation of a statewide indigent defense funding stream; a study to recommend methods to reduce or eliminate shackling in juvenile courtrooms; implementation of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI); and elimination of school zero tolerance policies.

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  • Organizational and Large-Scale Change — Supreme Court Vacates Thousands of Juvenile Adjudications: In an unprecedented decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated as many as 6,500 adjudications of delinquency of youth who appeared before former judge Mark Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008. The farreaching order is an exceptional response to the judicial scandal in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, through which Ciavarella and fellow judge Michael T. Conahan allegedly received more than $2.6 million in kickbacks from the owner of two private youth detention centers in exchange for sending youth there. The General Assembly established an Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice to investigate the circumstances that led to the corruption, restore public confidence in the administration of justice, and prevent the occurrence of similar events. In Re: Expungement of Juvenile Records and Vacatur of Luzerne County Juvenile Court Consent Decrees or Adjudications from 2003-2008, October 29, 2010; H.B. 1648/Act 32, signed into law and effective August 7, 2009.
  • Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) — Berks County Reduces Detained Population and Disproportionate Detention of Youth of Color: Thanks in part to Berks County’s work with the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change DMC Action Network, the county has reduced the disproportionate detention and residential placement of Latino and African American youth. Daily, there are now five fewer African American youth and 22 fewer Latino youth in county detention centers. These improvements come as part of an overall reduction in the average daily detention population, which is now only 15 to 20 youth, compared with a high of 54 youth per day in one quarter of 2007, a 65 percent reduction. The average length of stay in detention is also down, from 25 to 15 days; and out-of-home placements have been cut from 339 to 123 per year, creating a savings of over $2 million. The reduction in the detention population allowed the county to permanently remove 24 beds from the facility, making space for the expansion of a non-secure job-readiness program and an expanded shelter. Berks County accomplished these reductions by analyzing data from key decision points, implementing a detention assessment instrument, creating an evening reporting center, expanding the availability of shelter beds, and making use of alternatives to out-of-home placements. As a result of Berks County’s success, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency created funding for five additional counties to develop evening reporting centers and required that those counties implement detention assessment instruments as a condition of the funding.

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Photo: J. Stephen Conn, under Creative Commons License.