PA District Attorneys List Public Safety Concerns; Offer Help in Addressing Them
HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association (PDAA) today identified three major public safety concerns as priorities of the association, asking Governor Josh Shapiro and state lawmakers to work with district attorneys to find long-term solutions to the problems.
In a letter to Governor Shapiro, PDAA President Brian Sinnett, who is the District Attorney of Adams County, and PDAA Executive Director Kelly Callihan listed the lack of juvenile detention facilities in the state, the growing mental health crisis in the counties, and the proliferation of skill games in communities as the top public safety priorities in need of answers.
The Need for Juvenile Detention Facilities
In May 2023, the Juvenile Court Judges’ Association reported that 15 detention facilities closed in Pennsylvania between 2006 and 2021. Today, there are only 13 facilities in Pennsylvania providing secure detention services and offering just over 400 staff-secured beds for juveniles.
The district attorneys said many counties are struggling to find space for juveniles in the criminal justice system. PDAA said the lack of secure facilities is particularly troubling because it reduces the likelihood that the juveniles will receive the support and services they need for rehabilitation. District attorneys across Pennsylvania have reported an increase in juvenile violence, including gun violence among juveniles.
“The fear is that juveniles, without the proper support and services, will commit new crimes because there are no detention facilities available for them to get the needed treatment and services,” Sinnett and Callihan wrote.
The Need for Mental Health Services
District attorneys said law enforcement officials in their communities are encountering more and more individuals with mental health issues. The district attorneys are working with behavioral health specialists to address the mental health crisis in their counties. However, they said additional resources are needed.
PDAA recommended more collaboration with state agencies, better integration of behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment, and more assistance on the local level.
“Many of our prosecutors have embraced diversion programs for non-violent crimes where individuals can receive treatment for mental health and substance use disorder,” they wrote. “However, these diversion programs only work if there are resources available for treatment.”
The Need for Regulations with Skill Games
In the letter, PDAA officials said the association is not taking a stand on the legality of skill games. That is a determination that needs to be made by state lawmakers. Rather, the district attorneys are focusing on the public safety impact caused by the proliferation of skill games.
PDAA said the pizza shops, convenience stores and gas stations where skill games are found generally do not have a high level of security. This makes them vulnerable to thieves who target the establishments. PDAA noted an increase in crimes around the machines.
PDAA officials sympathize with local business owners, who rely on the machines for extra income, but said there is a need to improve public safety. PDAA recommended that policymakers require security improvements, consumer protection measures and mechanisms for preventing underage use.
“While there are other public safety issues, PDAA would like to highlight these three issues and offer our willingness to work with your administration and lawmakers to find solutions to these problems,” they wrote.
To read the full letter, please go to the PDAA website.
For more information, contact Kelly Callihan, PDAA Executive Director, at 717-238-5416.