Senator Lisa Baker issued the following statement regarding the final recommendations of the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice:
Pennsylvanians owe sincere thanks to Judge John Cleland and the members of the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice for providing dedicated and diligent service, for conducting a thorough and no-holds-barred inquiry, and for assembling such an extensive and well-reasoned series of recommendations for reform.
Thanks are also due to those who came forward with candid accounts of what went wrong, and to the individuals and groups who submitted reform recommendations to the commission.
The Interbranch Commission has shown the laudable result when publicly spirited individuals take seriously the charge of righting incredible wrongs. They handled a difficult assignment, unlike anything in our state’s experience, with intelligence, integrity, and determination.
Even though the juvenile justice system across Pennsylvania is outstanding in many respects, the complete collapse in Luzerne County makes it imperative to add safeguards. The recommendations address issues we had immediately identified, and many others that surfaced during the course of the investigation.
Corruption, indifference, and failure touched every aspect of the local juvenile justice system, and reached even beyond into the schools and the community. The recommendations necessarily include upgrading standards in every part of the process.
This report is a clear call to action. None of this can be treated casually, in the sense of “it might be nice to do something someday if we have time or find money or the spirit still moves us.”
All three branches of state government are put on notice that substantial, specific steps must be taken to remedy injustice, restore public confidence, and prevent a future perversion of justice.
Ultimate responsibility for the juvenile justice system rests with the state Supreme Court under our unified judicial system. Several of the key recommendations will require action by the Court, and it is hoped they will act directly and decisively.
Where the recommendations require legislative action, I will introduce the bills needed to spur debate and action. There are other Senators with long-established interest and involvement in judicial issues, and their participation and leadership will be helpful as well.
The responsibility for providing fair and effective justice is delineated in the state Constitution. There is no asterisk indicating these obligations are suspended during times of substantial budget deficit. A large deficit in quality justice is every bit as consequential and harmful as a large deficit in state revenue.
For the money needed for training, oversight, advocacy, and compensation, we will look to federal sources, foundations, fee increases, and funds established for related purposes.
The commission’s proceedings were open and accessible to encourage public participation and invite public input. The report has been crafted to help the public understand the problems, and to enable citizens to join in the effort to compel action by the three branches of state government.
Interbanch Commission on Juvenile Justice
Contact: Jennifer Wilson