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Senate Judiciary Committee hears testimony on juvenile justice reform
Times Leader - 5/25/2022
May 25--DALLAS -- State Sen. Lisa Baker Tuesday said Monday's hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee demonstrated clear bi-partisan support for juvenile justice reforms -- including the expungement of records, indigent defense, and changes to our funding structure.
Baker, R-Lehman Township, chairs the committee, but she was absent due to illness. Baker did address the results of the hearing.
"Testifiers cautioned that reducing residential placements will require an assurance that adequate community-based programs and interventions are in place to support juveniles and their families and protect public safety," Baker said. "The need to improve youth access to quality behavioral and mental health services was also confirmed."
On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on Juvenile Justice Reforms. Sen. Baker said she has been working on a bi-partisan package of bills, to implement reforms needed to improve outcomes for youth, families, and communities, with a continued focus on protecting public safety.
Baker said the legislation she introduced is intended to achieve taxpayer savings that can then be reinvested to implement more effective research-based policies.
Baker said the public hearing offered an examination of the legislation and the opportunity to hear from four panels, with a total of 14 testifiers.
Baker also said she "greatly appreciated" Kingston Police Chief Richard Kotchik's invitation to tour the Wyoming Valley West Middle School last week to meet with administrators and staff, and school resource officers to better understand the impacts on those dealing with incidents on a daily basis.
"They shared their experience and stressed the need for accountability as system reforms are evaluated," Baker said. "Their concerns were shared by others at the hearing on Monday, including Sen. Scott Martin (R-13) who chairs the Senate Education Committee. We will be working together to find new ways to connect students with the interventions they need to be successful and explore how school initiatives can complement community resources."
Last week, Baker said, "It is critical that we hold juveniles accountable for their actions, but also put in place policies that offer the chance for positive growth."
Baker added that from the beginning, the issue of reforming Pennsylvania's juvenile justice system has been a joint, bi-partisan effort.
"No matter if young people live in rural, suburban, or urban areas of our state, the system and processes in place should be fair and equipped with the tools to strengthen families and reduce recidivism rates," Baker said.
Legislation to strengthen Pennsylvania's juvenile justice system is set for action according to Sen. Baker, Sen. Steve Santarsiero, D-10, and Sen. Jay Costa, D-43, who have been working to implement reforms needed to improve outcomes for youth, families, and communities, with a continued focus on protecting public safety.
The Senators are advancing a package of bills intended to achieve taxpayer savings that can then be reinvested to implement more effective research-based policies. The effort includes changes to standardize the expungement process and shorten the timeline for eligibility in certain cases, and provide funding for alternative sentencing and juvenile defense expenses.
The specific bills introduced in the package are:
Senate Bill 1227 -- Addresses JJTF Recommendation 2, by amending the Human Services Code to include both juvenile justice and child welfare funding goals.
Senate Bill 1229 -- Addresses JJTF Recommendation 5, by amending the Human Services Code to provide funding for indigent juvenile defense services.
Senate Bill 1228 -- Addresses JJTF Recommendation 16, by keeping youth in out-of-home placement no longer than the time-frame supported by research.
Senate Bill 1226 -- Addresses JJTF Recommendation 23, by creating a standardized statewide expungement process.
Reach Bill O'Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.
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