The Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee voted to advance HB 1381 today, which YSRP hopes will usher in a more humane era of support and care for youth involved in the criminal legal system.
In June of 2015, the parent of one of the youth we work with, Kameelah, brought to our attention that the City of Philadelphia was taking her to court to pay for the time her son spent in a private juvenile placement (a secure facility in the juvenile justice system, often analogous to a prison). Shocked by this practice, YSRP partnered with the Justice Lab at the Sheller Center for Social Justice at Temple Law to learn more about it so we could change it. Since early 2016, YSRP and Sela Cowger, Kelsey Grimes, Wes Stevenson, and Professor Colleen Shanahan from the Justice Lab have been working to stop this harmful practice of collecting costs from parents of children who have been incarcerated. Today, the Philadelphia Inquirer published Philly Locks Up Kids for Truancy, Fighting – Then Goes After Parents for Child Support about this practice and our work to end it. We are pleased to report that our investigation and advocacy has led to active engagement with the City of Philadelphia, and that the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS) has publicly committed to ending the practice as a direct result. We hope to report soon that the City has in fact ended this harmful practice, and that this change has spread across Pennsylvania.
As the Inquirer story reports, the Justice Lab team’s investigation uncovered how this practice works in Philadelphia. After a child is sent home from a private juvenile placement, DHS initiates a support order against his or her parents to recover the cost of confinement for that child. This practice is permitted, but not required, by Pennsylvania law. For years, Philadelphia has paid a private attorney a generous, incentive-based salary to seek these orders.
The City issues these support orders against working parents, however these parents are often struggling to make ends meet. Kameelah, for example, makes a salary that falls below the poverty line, needs food stamps and government-assisted housing to support her family of four, and still the City garnishes her wages and tax returns for the cost of her child’s incarceration. These support orders force families to choose between paying for basic necessities, like food and utility bills, and paying for the cost of their child’s incarceration. This strains family relationships at a time when families should be rebuilding, not depleting their limited resources. Further, the Justice Lab research shows the practice does not generate enough funding for the City to offset these harms to families.
We are so grateful to Kameelah for having the courage to speak up about a practice that has affected thousands of Philadelphia families, and to the Justice Lab students for their commitment to uncovering and ending this practice. We are encouraged by the commitment of Philadelphia DHS to end this practice, and are hopeful that Pennsylvania may stop the collection of children’s incarceration costs from parents statewide.
Read the full article here.