New report heading to state’s Youth Safety Caucus amid youth violence concerns

HARRISBURG, Pa. — After years of work, the state’s juvenile justice task force has looked at the system from all angles. Now a new report is heading to a new Youth Safety Caucus in Harrisburg to make some changes.

“Some of these kids who are in horrific situations as youngsters go down a really bad path,” said state Sen. Camera Bartolotta.

Bartolotta is one of the leaders behind the creation of a new Youth Safety Caucus in Harrisburg. She told Channel 11 it’s time we give young people, like Zahkir Mercer, a second chance.

“I’d been going to school in the detention center for five months. I come home with one credit, and I had to start school over again,” Mercer said.

Mercer was arrested in 2022 on a juvenile court charge. He spent time on house arrest and in the detention center. He said the experience put up a lot of barriers and can send people down the wrong path to continue committing crimes.

“I couldn’t get an actual job because of what my record says because it said I was a juvenile delinquent,” Mercer said.

He wants to see more support for juveniles placed in the justice system. That’s what this new caucus hopes to look at by going through the recommendations from the juvenile justice task force.

“We need a system, that’s how do we support young people. How do we at every junction make it easier for them to do the things we want them to do, and to thrive, and right now we have a system — whether it’s probation, house arrest, placement — often puts up barriers for young people,” said Sarah Morris with the Youth Art & Self-Empowerment Project.

Now the caucus has a handful of recommendations to look at and hear from people like Mercer to make decisions that may change the future of new juveniles entering our justice system.

“The occurrence of juvenile crime is on the rise. Let’s tackle it at the root cause, let’s get to these individuals before they get on a path or life of crime. We can do it and we should be focusing on it,” Bartolotta said.

The caucus just got started this month and members are still joining from both sides of the aisle.

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