Report: Racial inequities ‘pervade’ Philly’s juvenile justice system | Tuesday Morning Coffee
More kids have been diverted, but costs have ‘soared’ for those who remain
(Photo via The Philadelphia Tribune)
Public spending on Philadelphia’s juvenile justice system dropped by $35 million in the four years between 2017 and 2021, as more children were diverted away from the system for less serious offenses.
But at the same time, the costs for system-involved youth have soared, and racial inequities “[continue] to pervade” the city’s juvenile justice system. That’s the bottom line of a new report released Monday by Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office through a grant by the Neubauer Family Foundation.
Public spending on Philadelphia’s juvenile justice system declined from $134 million in fiscal 2017 to $99 million in fiscal 2021, a decline of 46%, according to the report. For instance, the number of city youth connected to Juvenile Probation Office (JPO) services dropped by 50%, from 3,640 youth in 2017 to approximately 1,970 in 2021, Krasner’s office said in a statement.
The decline in both youth contact — and spending — can be attributed to several factors, including a “sizable reduction” in the use of residential placement facilities, and the closing of such facilities “in the wake of abuse scandals and the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report’s authors noted.
At the same time, however, juvenile justice costs jumped by 36% between 2017 and 2021.
“Residential juvenile justice facilities are the leading drivers of youth justice costs. In FY2019, the cost per youth detained at the Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Services Center alone totaled over $220,000,” Krasner’s office said in a statement.
The document’s findings “strongly suggest that while youth accused of lower-level offenses are coming into contact with the juvenile court system far less than in previous years, the juvenile justice system in its current state urgently requires improvements in order to meet the needs of our city’s system-involved youth,” Krasner’s office said.
The report also found persistent racial disparities. In fiscal 2019, for instance, 41% of youth aged 10-19 were Black, but they represented 81% of youth arrests.
“My administration remains committed to helping shape a juvenile justice system that produces the best outcomes for everyone who come into contact with it,” Krasner said in a statement, adding that the report “indicates that we must continue to partner with our juvenile justice stakeholders in order to reform a system that requires different policies to make it even better.
The report did provide some cause for optimism, concluding that, in fiscal 2019, just 27% of youth were rearrested after completing diversion compared to 53% who were not diverted. And in 2022, the DA’s office diverted 22% of lower-level youth arrests from juvenile court.
Those young people, in turn, were connected with job training, behavioral health services, athletics, and other services aimed at preventing them from returning to the system, Krasner’s office said.
The report also includes several recommendations for further improvements. They include:
- “[Continuing] to explore safe and high-impact opportunities for diversion expansion for lower-level offenses;
- “[Giving] the surplus funds that remain due to the significant decline in overall spending on Philadelphia’s juvenile justice system, government and policy leaders should consider exploring increased investment in diversion for youth charged with lower-level crimes;
- “[Reallocating] money to more effectively fund resources for youth at the initial point of contact with the juvenile system in order to decrease recidivism;
- “[Contracting] with and utilize mid-level private placement facilities, when appropriate, as an alternative to state placement and secure detention,” and
- “[Requiring] detailed explanations of rising city staffing costs in order to address the soaring costs associated with the system, despite historic declines in youth arrests and contacts with the court.”
“Importantly, we found that while traditional approaches to juvenile justice in the city appear to produce suboptimal outcomes, the key to improving our system cannot lie simply in the allocation of more money,” said Adam Serlin, the founder and principal of Independent Variable LLC, the Philadelphia-based consulting firm that helped collate the data used in the report.
“Our analysis shows substantial unspent juvenile justice budget appropriations over the past half-decade, even while per-youth spending on juvenile justice has far exceeded that seen in other youth-serving systems,” Serlin continued. “This suggests that a fundamental reimagining of our spending strategies may be in order.”
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