The District Attorney’s Testimony on Senate Bill 99

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March 15, 2010

 I am very happy to testify today in favor of SB 99, sponsored by my friend Senator Anthony Williams.  I am pleased to report that the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association supports the concepts behind SB 99.  While we have some technical concerns about the bill that need to be addressed, we stand ready to work with you Mr. Chairman, committee staff and Senator Williams to address any issues that may arise and to help advance the bill through the legislative process.

Some may say that you can’t legislate good parenting.  While I somewhat agree with this notion, I think we can help provide some parents facing challenges with their children with better tools and incentives to help them keep their kids out of trouble, in school, and on the path to success. 

If there is one statistic that you remember from this hearing it is this:  the most common trait of our young offenders is that they do not have a high school diploma. I believe the best long term strategy to reduce crime is to ensure that our children get a good education, are not truant, and graduate.  The best crime prevention tool is a high school diploma.

As Judge Kevin Dougherty told one of the juveniles involved in the recent flash mob in Center City, “education is probably one of the only vaccinations we have against violence.  Without an education, you seek violence.”   SB 99 recognizes what Judge Dougherty said.  Indeed, we must all do everything we can to provide parents with the right support system to help their kids to stay out of trouble and get an education.

 Parents can play a critical role in helping their children stay away from danger, out of trouble, and in the classroom.  Parents must show their kids that not cooperating in school, not doing homework, being truant, or breaking the law has very serious negative consequences that can affect their child’s entire future. 

I do want to note several technical concerns with SB 99 as drafted.  I trust that our respective staffs can work these issues out.

  • The bill as written may be an unfunded mandate
  • Before this bill takes effect, we have to make sure there are sufficient diversionary programs in place.  These programs, not incarceration, are the key points of SB 99’s importance. 
  • Expungement provisions can be simplified
  • The language of the bill needs to be clarified to ensure that parents and guardians are responsible for acts and omissions that affect their own children.
  • The obligation on prosecutors to annually review all diversionary programs under this bill should rest with each county district attorney, not with every individual assistant district attorney who handles these cases.  As written, SB 99 places this obligation on every individual district attorney who handles these cases.

Finally, I believe we all need to work together to revive Philadelphia’s once impressive network of prevention programs.  We ought to be conducting the same analysis in the rest of the state as well.  Here in Philadelphia, primarily as a result of budgetary problems, a number of programs designed to prevent truancy and delinquency have been cut.


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