HARRISBURG – State Senator Lisa Baker has been at the forefront of juvenile justice reform efforts for more than a decade. Now she will be an integral part of the latest push for improving the system as part of an interbranch Juvenile Justice Task Force.
“We need to thoroughly look at all aspects of juvenile justice: balancing the interests and rights of the kids, their families and their communities; assessing the costs and effectiveness of placements and approaches; determining the public safety implications of what is done; and deciding how to ensure accountability for what takes place inside the system and how the return to the community is handled,” Baker stated.
“Extensive reforms implemented by the three branches of state government following the Kids for Cash scandal addressed what happens to kids once they are in the juvenile justice system. There is still work to be done in that regard, but the bigger challenge is to figure out ways to intervene with young people before they commit acts that bring them into the system. This is consistent with what we are trying to do across criminal justice generally, stressing prevention up front and reducing recidivism on the back end,” she explained.
The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency issued a report a year ago that faulted the state for severely underfunding research into juvenile delinquency. That affects the ability to stop kids short of coming into the system and properly dealing with them once they do.
“In important respects, this is an old problem. If not enough money is put toward identifying the causes of delinquency and establishing effective deterrent measures, the severity of the issues will increase and, as more kids are adjudicated delinquent, positive outcomes will be more costly and less certain to realize,” Baker pointed out.
The Pew Charitable Trusts has been enlisted to help provide the statistical base on which to build recommendations. Pew has a long track record for helping to inform major reform efforts on difficult and contentious issues, such as public pensions.
“The numbers capturing the extent and depth of the problems in juvenile justice will be alarming, but a reliable set of data is indispensable in understanding the challenges and arriving at recommendations on policies and funding levels that will constitute effective solutions,” Baker said.