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Pennsylvania Supreme Court updates juvenile justice system

April 19, 2005

Nine years after the state legislature's special session on crime, Pennsylvania's Supreme Court has finally adopted new rules on how the juvenile courts will be run.

The changes will likely result in additional costs. But an increased investment in defendants during their first encounters with the justice system should pay off with a lower recividism rate later.

According to The Associated Press, the juvenile court system in Pennsylvania handles 60,000 cases per year. About 3 percent of the state's children are involved as defendants.

Until new rules were instituted in April, juvenile court procedures varied widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and, in many cases, juvenile law "masters" were used in place of judges.

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Now the masters will have to shift more serious cases to the state's 125 judges, which means more of them might have to be added.

Juvenile defendants will also be eligible for court-appointed attorneys now; those who waive their right to counsel will undergo questioning by a judge before cases proceed.

Crimes of violence perpetrated by juveniles have been dropping since 1994, a fact Jim Anderson, executive director of the Juvenile Court Judges' Commission, told AP he credits to early intervention and cooperation between state agencies and community groups.

However, juvenile drug offenses and theft cases are on the rise, which means more work must be done. We urge Pennsylvania residents to support investing money now to deal with juvenile offenders before they become adult criminals resistant to change.

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