Rabb introduces legislation to end charging children as adults in PA

HARRISBURG, June 16 – State Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Phila., along with many of his House Democratic colleagues, has introduced legislation to end charging children as adults in Pennsylvania.

In 2017, more than 400 children between 14 and 17 were charged with criminal offenses in adult court due to a law passed by the Pennsylvania state legislature in 1995.

Originally heralded as rehabilitative and a deterrent, Act 33 of Special Session 1 of 1995 requires individuals 15 to 17 charged with certain felonies to be charged in adult court if they meet certain requirements, such as the use of a weapon during the alleged crime.

“Act 33 was inspired by the racist 'super-predator' trope that was applied to young Black men in the mid-'90s,” Rabb said. “We should ensure the legal system treats all children as children by prohibiting direct filing and transfer of cases involving children to the adult system.”

More than 80% of youth prosecuted as adults arrive in adult court through direct file, with young Black men accounting for 57% of adult convictions while only making up 7% of the statewide youth population. In fact, nearly 60% of cases in which youth are tried as adults end up being dismissed, withdrawn, or returned to the juvenile system anyway.

Rabb continued: “Instead of helping our youth, this “direct file” law has been proven time and time again to be a failure, nothing more than a cruel, unnecessary punishment that forces children into the adult prison system.”

Research has shown again and again that young people tried as adults have higher rates of recidivism than those who remain in the juvenile system, Rabb said.

His legislation aims to protect and rehabilitate young Pennsylvanians by repealing the direct file law so that youth can be tried as youth and given the resources they need to avoid a lifetime in the criminal legal system. It goes further by requiring that all children be treated as children and never prosecuted as adults.

According to Rabb, his legislation was inspired by broadly supported recommendations from the bipartisan PA Juvenile Justice Task Force, along with the leadership of stakeholders such as Youth Art and Self-Empowerment and the Youth Sentencing Re-Entry Project.