The Republican-dominated state Legislature and the Democratic Wolf administration remain deeply divided on everything from gun control to taxation. But they have found common ground on which they have begun to build a common positive legacy regarding criminal justice reforms.

Gov. Tom Wolf this week signed a package of reforms to fight mass incarceration, especially by reducing recidivism by creating greater job opportunities for former inmates and mandating less technical enforcement of parole and probation terms.

And last week, the governor and a bipartisan group of legislators from both houses announced that, in cooperation with the Pew Charitable Trusts, the state will create task force to examine juvenile justice statewide and recommend improvements by November.

Pew long has been involved in juvenile justice reform. After a similar process in Kansas, for example, that state legislature adopted reforms to prevent low-level offenders from getting deeper into trouble, and focusing more resources on the most serious offenders to help them avoid a lifetime in the criminal justice system.

Pennsylvania has established reforms since the infamous kids-for-cash scandal in Luzerne County at the beginning of this decade, which illustrated the enormous power that a few individuals wield in a secretive system.

Yet Pennsylvania does not have a single juvenile justice system but 67 systems tied to local common pleas courts. And to protect the identity of juveniles, each continues to operate well outside the scope of public scrutiny that applies to other elements of the courts.

Juvenile justice and public safety are good issues to inspire the state officials’ rise above blind partisanship. Ideally, the experience also will inspire them to find bipartisan approaches to other major issues.

The above editorial was published Dec. 26 by The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizen’s Voice. Its views are its own.

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