DAs Collaborating Locally to Responsibly Decrease Juvenile Populations at Youth Centers

April 3, 2020

Categorical release of juveniles is not in the best interest of either the juveniles or the community, PDAA tells Supreme Court.

HARRISBURG, PA – In response to the health issues presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, individual district attorneys are actively engaged with local stakeholders to limit and decrease local juvenile populations at youth centers, placement centers and detention facilities across the commonwealth. Juvenile detention hearings are still taking place and the majority of district attorney offices are taking steps to not only reduce the number of new youths entering juvenile detention facilities but also reduce the number of youths currently detained.

The measures being taken across the commonwealth were outlined in a Supreme Court-ordered response by the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association to a King’s Bench filing by the Juvenile Law Center requesting a categorical release of detained and confined juveniles.

“To be sure, the relevant parties – the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas, local district attorneys’ offices, public defenders, defense bar, and juvenile probation officers – are working rapidly, yet responsibly to ensure that individual considerations are given to each case in order to minimize and/or reduce the number of juveniles being detained,” the response states.

Montgomery, Berks, Beaver, Juniata, Snyder, Elk, Adams, Delaware, Clearfield, Luzerne, and Wayne counties are among those attesting to the work that is currently being done locally and among juvenile justice stakeholders.

The response goes on to point out the categorical release of juveniles is not in the best interest of either the juveniles or the community. While Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Act prioritizes individual considerations of a juvenile’s needs and circumstances, the petitioner’s request to categorically release juveniles creates a complicated and potentially dangerous situation for the youth and the community.

“The juvenile system is meant to help juveniles through treatment, rehabilitation and supervision. A court order that would cut placement short, abruptly ending beneficial treatments… would seriously undermine the juvenile system’s goals and may not be in the best interest of the child.”

The Juvenile Law Center’s filing requests the release of any juvenile within three months of completing their program or disposition, has a medical condition identified at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, tests positive for COVID-19, or is displaying COVID-19 systems.  The petitioner also requests the release of all juveniles currently detained in adult jails, unless their release “poses an immediate, specific, articulable risk of serious harm to another.”

“The appropriate approach to the release of juvenile offenders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic — and the approach the counties are already employing —is for all relevant stakeholders, including probation officers, defense attorneys, prosecutors and the courts to expeditiously review each case involving a youth who is confined and determine what is in the best interests of that child.”

In addition to steps taken locally to reduce juvenile detention populations under the extraordinary circumstances of COVID-19, steps have been taken in juvenile institutions to mitigate risks posed by COVID-19. In fact, the conditions under which juveniles are currently being held during this public health concern are not entirely different from those they would experience if they were released.

Earlier today, the Supreme Court issued an order denying the relief requested by the ACLU to categorically release adult inmates from county jails.

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April 3, 2020

Contact: Lindsay Vaughan, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association lvaughan@pdaa.org or (717) 238-5416.