Wolf, lawmakers announce new panel to study juvenile justice system

    Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, joined Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday to announce the new Juvenile Justice Task Force. (Capital-Star photo by Elizabeth Hardison)

    A panel of experts convened by Gov. Tom Wolf will spend the next year finding ways to improve Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system. 

    The new Juvenile Justice Task Force will publish a study in November 2020, with recommendations for reducing juvenile involvement in the criminal justice system, and strengthening protections for children who run afoul of the law, Wolf said Monday during a Capitol news conference.

    The new advisory panel is the result of a partnership with the Pew Charitable Trusts, a Philadelphia-based research and public policy organization. 

    “This is an important step toward protecting vulnerable young Pennsylvanians,” Wolf said. “With this task force, we can thoroughly review our juvenile justice system and find ways to make lasting change that ensures every young Pennsylvanian is getting the support needed to grow into a successful adult.”

    A bipartisan group of state House and Senate leaders joined Wolf Monday to show their support for the new panel, which only has advisory powers and cannot enact any regulations. 

    Wolf has 30 days to appoint its members, who will not be paid.

    Sen. Mike Regan, R-York, described the initiative as the next, logical step in Pennsylvania’s effort to curb correctional spending and reduce prison populations amid a decade-long decline in crime rates. 

    “With one of the highest juvenile detention rates in the nation, it’s important we take a fact-based review of our juvenile justice system to ensure our children have opp to overcome struggles and, ultimately, succeed,” Regan, a former U.S. marshal,  said. 

    The creation of the new task force comes roughly nine months after Wolf’s administration closed the Glen Mills School, a youth detention center near Philadelphia, as it investigated claims of child abuse and cover-up by school staff and administrators. 

    The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported that staff members at the school beat students and forced them to lie about their treatment. 

    Rep. Kristine Howard, D-Delaware, said the Glen Mills revelations show the necessity of taking a fresh look at juvenile justice system across the Commonwealth.  

    “I know we can do better,” Howard, a former child abuse investigator whose district neighbors Glen Mills, said. “There’s more work to be done, this data-driven task force is the way forward.”