Treat Kids As Kids

End The Prosecution of Youth as Adults

One of YASP’s primary policy goals is repealing Pennsylvania laws that allow young people to be prosecuted as adults and incarcerated in adult jails and prisons. The majority of these laws are known as “direct file” laws, because they mandate that certain cases against young people must be filed directly in adult court.

YASP organizer My Le speaks about the need to support SB1240 and end direct file.

YASP organizer Andre Simms speaks about the need to support SB1240 and end direct file.

What is “direct file”?

Under PA’s current “direct file” laws, children 15 and over are automatically prosecuted as adults for a variety of charges – and children of any age are automatically charged as adults in homicide cases. In fact, these charges are excluded from juvenile court jurisdiction – meaning even if a prosecutor wants to file a case in juvenile court, they are legally barred from doing so. In addition, the “once an adult, always an adult” provision states that if a child is prosecuted as an adult in one case, they will be prosecuted as an adult in all future cases, no matter the charge. In these cases, the burden is on the child’s attorney to prove that they should be transferred to juvenile court and prosecuted as a child.

Children 14 and older can also be transferred to adult court through the state’s criminal transfer laws. In addition to repealing PA’s direct file laws, YASP advocates for an end to transfer laws that allow any child to be transferred to the adult system and prosecuted as an adult.

Why is it so important to treat kids as kids?

Over the past three decades, countless studies have found that children prosecuted as adults and held in adult facilities are more likely to experience physical and sexual abuse, more likely to engage in self harm, less likely to receive educational and therapeutic resources, and significantly more likely to be arrested in the future than children with similar charges whose cases remain in the juvenile system. This last statistic should give us all pause – why would we continue a practice that not only harms children and their families, but also increases arrests and makes our communities less safe?

There’s no one better suited to talk about the harm caused by direct file laws than young people who themselves were impacted by these misguided policies. In June 2022, YASP Youth Organizer + Healing Futures facilitator, My Le, spoke before the PA Legislative Criminal Justice Reform Caucus, alongside other youth leaders from the Care, Not Control campaign. My spoke about her own experience in Philadelphia’s adult jails – where, at the age of 17, she was held in de facto solitary confinement for much of her 8 months – and urged legislators to pass legislation to end direct file.

In June 2022, David Harrington, also a YASP Youth Organizer + Healing Futures facilitator, was featured in a recent national story on the historic shift of states across the country away from prosecuting children as adults. We believe Pennsylvania must act now to join the growing number of states to recognize that prosecuting children as adults is a backwards policy that hurts children and makes us all less safe.

In May 2022, Senator Camera Bartolotta introduced SB1240, a bill that would end the practice of direct file in Pennsylvania and place stricter limits on when young people can be transferred to the adult system. Visit our social media to learn more about YASP’s campaign to #PassSB1240.

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