A group of Pennsylvania House Democrats are planning to reintroduce legislation aimed at ending the practice of charging juveniles as adults, regardless of the crime.
According to the memorandum filed late last week, the legislation, sponsored by Philadelphia County Rep. Christopher Rabb, would “ensure the legal system treats all children as children by prohibiting direct filing and transfer of cases involving children to the adult system.”
Supporters of the legislation, which was previously referred to the House Judiciary Committee as House Bill 2758, but did not pass, argue that “charging children as adults is damaging to their well-being, the well-being of their loved ones, and the well-being of this commonwealth.”
“This legislation aims to protect and rehabilitate young Pennsylvanians by repealing the direct file law so that our youth can be tried as youth and given the resources they need to avoid a lifetime in the criminal legal system.”
In 1995, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed Act 33, which required juveniles between the ages of 15-17 to be charged with felonies and to be tried in adult court if they committed certain crimes, such as rape or murder.
Sponsors of the legislation argue that the “direct file” law has not produced the desired outcome and claim that “nearly 60% of cases in which youth are tried as adults end up dismissed, withdrawn, or returned to the juvenile system anyway.”
“I think that whether or not a 14-17 year old is charged as an adult is dependent upon many factors and should not be mandated by law. The seriousness of the crime, the mental capacity of the individual, intent, extenuating circumstances and many other factors must be considered on a case by case basis. In addition, it would make juveniles less responsible for their own actions. Just take a look at what some of the youth have been doing in Chicago in recent days,”
Rep. Rabb says he was inspired to create the bill after more than 400 children between the ages of 14 and 17 were charged as an adult in 2017, and the majority of those children were black.
He says he believes the children who are being put in prison need to be rehabilitated and overall, just need better help.
“We need to protect them, we need to rehabilitate. When we talk about rehabilitation, there’s a lot of push back, oh well some people can’t be rehabilitated. Well, how do we know until we try? And have we put the resources towards rehabilitating as many people who want to be rehabilitated?”
Rep. Rabb notes that the third largest expenditure in Pennsylvania’s $45 million annual budget is putting people in prison.
He also adds that he understands that not everyone will also believe in or support this bill, and Representative Frank Burns is one of those people.
“Most people that I represent believe a 15- to 17-year-old can tell right from wrong. So, when they commit certain crimes such as murder, kidnapping, rape or robbery — they should be held accountable and shouldn’t expect sympathy from me.”
While the legislation has not been formally reintroduced in the state House, it is expected to be discussed next week when lawmakers return to session.