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State Juvenile Justice Task Force Finds Too Many First Time Offenders Put In System For Low-Level Crimes

On today’s program: State Sen. Lisa Baker, co-chair of the Juvenile Justice Task Force, describes the findings of the group’s recent report and what improvements can be made; Pittsburgh Public School’s Minika Jenkins explains why one of the district’s summer learning options, Summer B.O.O.S.T. Program, is starting a week late, and serving fewer students than expected; and Acting Middle District U.S. Attorney Bruce Brandler reflects on his work to investigate pandemic relief theft and the U.S. Capitol attack.

Bipartisan Juvenile Justice Task Force finds youth treated differently based on race, geography
(0:00 - 9:08)

After 16 months, the state’s Juvenile Justice Task Force has come out with their assessment and recommendations for Pennsylvania’s system.

The main finding is that not enough is being done to keep youth out of the juvenile justice system. The task force reported at least two-thirds of youth enter the juvenile justice system for misdemeanors or failing to pay fines, and there is a disparity in how youths are treated based on race and geographic location.

“The data shows that [youths are] treated differently by the system county to county, and that’s even for the same offense, and the disparities in the tools that are available to law enforcement or to the court perhaps even keep those kids in the deep end of the system.” says task force co-chair State Senator Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne).

The report recommends prioritizing restitution payments to victims and reducing the imposition of fines or court costs to offenders. The report also calls for employing evidence-based practices and focusing on community-based interventions to support youth offenders.

“As we apply the law, it should be applied uniformly,” says Baker. “Despite its success, diversion, which is the kind of program that helps to prevent a child from getting into the system early, it’s actually what we found being underutilized.”

Baker says these new recommendations are the starting point of a legislative process to create much needed juvenile justice reform.

PPS Summer B.O.O.S.T. launches with staffing shortage, delays
(9:09 - 17:01)

Pittsburgh Public School District summer learning program B.O.O.S.T. got underway Monday, a week late, serving a thousand fewer students than previously planned. The district says this delay and shrinkage was because of staffing shortages.

“We are staffed enough that we were able to finally select 1,579 students as of last week, and that means we only had to turn away about 869 students,” says Minika Jenkins, Chief Academic Officer for PPS.

Jenkins says the pandemic certainly took a toll on educators and their families, which may have contributed to the staffing shortage for the summer program. Many wanted to take a break before the upcoming school year.

However, Jenkins says the district wanted to address learning loss due to the pandemic, and support students with disabilities who are owed COVID-compensatory services starting in the summer rather than waiting until the fall.

“We are looking right now to review attendance over the next few days at each of our sites for any open seats, however we do want to give families a couple of days to secure those seats” says Jenkins. “We do anticipate reaching out to a number of families beginning on Thursday for any open seats that we have available.”

Bruce Brandler reflects on his latest investigations
(17:03 - 22:30)

Midstate U.S. Attorney Bruce Brandler has been a federal prosecutor for 35 years, putting corrupt public officials and shady business owners behind bars.

But over the last 16 months, investigating the theft of pandemic relief money and the U.S. Capitol attack have been at the top of his to-do list.

Brandler sat down with WITF's Sam Dunklau to talk about tackling unusual crimes in an unusual time.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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