And the winner is…Public Safety

December 24, 2014

In 2014, District Attorneys supported initiatives that will better protect children and combat drug addiction

Harrisburg, PA – New measures to combat drug abuse and protections for children are among a long list of measures the Pennsylvania District Attorney Association tackled in 2014 to improve public safety and the criminal justice system.

“The issue of public safety has been front and center in 2014,” said PDAA President and Union County District Attorney D. Peter Johnson. “District attorneys throughout Pennsylvania are grateful for the much-needed focus on protecting children, combatting drug addiction, and other issues important to public safety.”

Throughout the year, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association (PDAA) has worked with the governor and state legislature to address a lengthy public safety agenda, which included better protections for children from abuse, measures to combat the scourge of prescription drug and heroin abuse, and closing loopholes in the sentencing structure for individuals with multiple driving under the influence (DUI) convictions.

The PDAA also notes that for the first time, funding for Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs) was included in the state budget and the association established a Best Practices Committee, which serves as a collaborative, non-partisan network to identify best practices, research, and legal methods to assist in the  just evolution of the criminal justice system.

Among the public safety advancements made in 2014 are:

  • Rx Drug Monitoring: With prescription drug abuse on the rise and often considered the gateway to deadly heroin addiction, Pennsylvania went from having the second weakest prescription drug monitoring program in the nation to one of the strongest. The commonwealth currently ranks 7th in drug mortality rate nationally, up from fourteenth.
  • Good Samaritan/Naloxone: Also related to the scourge of drug abuse, municipal police officers can now carry and administer life-saving Naloxone which reverses the effects of opiate overdose.  Pennsylvania was one of two states disallowing the use of the drug among first responders.   In addition, a new law ensures that a Good Samaritan — even one high on illegal drugs – can help an overdose victim without fear of prosecution in certain circumstances.
  • Funding for Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs): For the first time in Pennsylvania’s history, a $2 million line item was included in the state budget to fund CACs.  Until now CACs have lacked a dedicated state funding stream, despite being considered a national model for addressing the issues related to the prosecution, treatment, healing and prevention of child abuse.
  • Child Abuse and Background Checks Revisions: In keeping with last year’s implementation of the Task Force for the Protection of Children’s recommendations, Pennsylvania took further action to strengthen its mandatory reporter laws, which now require additional individuals, including school employees and volunteers, to have background checks before having direct contact with children.  Another new law, known as “Pass the Trash”, requires school employers to get more background information on prospective employees.
  • DUI Loophole Closed: Until now, drivers with multiple DUI offenses but were yet to be sentenced, could escape harsher penalties due to a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling.  Now judges can consider multiple active cases to be repeat offences, even before sentencing occurs.
  • Best Practices Committee: Formalizing a role the PDAA has fulfilled informally for years, the association created the Pennsylvania Best Practices Committee this year, which will serve as a collaborative, non-partisan network to identify best practices, research and legal methods to assist in the  just evolution of the criminal justice system.

“Prosecutors in Pennsylvania have a long history of identifying and promoting reforms and efficiencies to the criminal justice system in order to protect the innocent, convict the guilty and ensure justice for the victims of crime,” said Johnson. “2014 was no exception. We are grateful to our partners in the state House and Senate, and the governor for their continued support for public safety and law enforcement.”

The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association is comprised of approximately 1,000 members and is charged with providing uniformity and efficiency in the discharge of duties and functions of Pennsylvania’s 67 District Attorneys and their assistants.  Since its founding in 1912, the Association has dutifully sponsored extensive training programs and reported legal and legislative developments of importance to Pennsylvania prosecutors.  In addition, legislative leaders at the state and national level often call upon the Association to address public policy issues and efforts, which will impact the prosecution of criminal cases, victim rights and public safety.