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Address juvenile system

“Revamp” might be too strong of a word for describing the mission of a soon-to-be-formed three-branch task force that will be examining Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system over the next approximately 11 months.

One definition that Webster’s dictionary provides for that word is “remake,” but it is doubtful that the justice system for young offenders needs to be remade.

Rather, it just needs improvements to what already exists, especially in shifting juvenile lawbreakers’ mindset from one of crime to becoming law-abiding, productive adults who are assets to their communities, not liabilities.

Many significant strides are possible, if the task force seeks and obtains input from professionals with diverse viewpoints on how to approach that challenge, then mixes the best ideas into a winning combination — one enabling the Keystone State to escape its dubious distinction of having one of the highest rates of juvenile detention in the nation.

Young offenders of today who later become adult offenders, ending up in a state correctional institution, do nothing good on this state’s behalf. Not only do they drain the commonwealth’s criminal justice resources but also the financial resources of taxpayers, for housing and caring for them.

That is not a juvenile justice road map with which residents of this state should be satisfied — even if the dominant attitude among residents is that Pennsylvania should not be lenient in regard to that category of crime.

Suffice now to say that the proposed task force is a meaningful opportunity, because it will engage all three branches of the state government in an exercise that easily should be able to avoid becoming bogged down in any kind of partisanship.

Those who will be members of the task force will have the opportunity to shine in regard to the recommendations that they eventually will be putting forth.

Compiling of recommendations should have windows for public input, including from juvenile-crime victims.

The task force, formally created earlier this month, will have a deadline of Nov. 20, 2020, for filing a report that includes its proposals. That date will mark the end of the current legislative session; those who announced the panel’s formation expressed hope that recommendations can be implemented during the Legislature’s 2021-22 session.

The recommendations won’t be limited to the challenge of attaining better outcomes for juvenile offenders, but also will address legal, budgetary and administrative changes that need to be put into effect on the offenders’ behalf. The state of the juvenile justice system is a mystery to most commonwealth residents, so it is impossible yet to gauge the range and cost of changes that might be deemed necessary.

The goal must be for the cost of changes to be erased by the savings and cost-effectiveness derived from them.

According to the news and information service Capitolwire, the task force is expected to include lawmakers, law enforcement personnel, judges, district attorneys and public defenders.

The last time the proverbial microscope was put on this state’s juvenile justice system was in 2009 — in response to a scandal in Luzerne County involving two judges who accepted kickbacks for sending young offenders to privately owned juvenile detention centers.

Fortunately, no scandal is prompting the task force work ahead — just good judgment.

Passage of 10 years marks a good time for determining what is working right and what isn’t — what merely needs improved and what needs action more drastic.

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