Interest-of-Justice Hearings in Allegheny County

By Felicia Dusha, Feature Editor

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In December 2018, Congress passed the Juvenile Justice Reform Act (JJRA), which amends the landmark Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) of 1974.[1] Under this new law, a juvenile charged as an adult “shall not have sight or sound contact with adult inmates…and may not be held in any jail or lockup for adults,” unless a judge first determines that it is in the interest of justice.[2]

There is a presumption under the JJRA that juveniles, who are not released pretrial on bail or otherwise, should not be held in adult jail or lockup.[3] Rather, they should be held in a juvenile detention center.[4] The only way to hold a juvenile in adult jail or lockup or have sight or sound contact with adult inmates is to first hold an interest-of-justice hearing where the court weighs seven factors, among which are the juvenile’s age and the nature and circumstances of the alleged offense.[5] At each of these hearings, the presumption is in favor of releasing the child.[6] The burden, therefore, falls on the Commonwealth to show that holding a child in an adult jail is the only way to meet the child’s specific needs and to protect the safety of the public.[7]

If, after weighing these factors, the court determines that it is in the interest of justice to hold the juvenile in an adult jail or lockup, then the court holds an interest-of-justice hearing every 30 days to “review whether it is still in the interest of justice to permit the juvenile to be so held or have such sight or sound contact; and the juvenile shall not be held in any jail or lockup for adults, or permitted to have sight or sound contact with adult inmates, for more than 180 days, unless the court, in writing, determines there is good cause for an extension or the juvenile expressly waives this limitation.”[8]

The JJRA requires the provision on the housing of juvenile defendants to go into effect no later than three years after the act was passed.[9] Earlier this year, Erie County began implementing the JJRA provision.[10] According to an article from the Erie Times-News, “[t]he hearings are meant to determine whether such juvenile defendants should stay at the Edmund L. Thomas Adolescent Center or get moved to the Erie County Prison.”[11] Erie County Judge John J. Trucilla, who oversees the administration of the local juvenile justice system, states that “[t]he whole point of this rule is not to have juveniles mixed with adults…[t]his is an extra layer of protection.”[12] Philadelphia County has also begun implementing the JJRA provisions, which has substantially reduced the number of children housed in the adult jail.[13] In 2015, Philadelphia County housed 36 children in its jail, but, as of August 2022, only 11 children were held in its jail.[14]

However, despite three years of notice, Allegheny County continues to hold around 25 children in its adult jail and has not provided detention bed space.[15] Allegheny County does not have bed space because it has not had a juvenile detention center since September of 2021 when Pittsburgh’s Shuman Juvenile Detention Center closed after the state Department of Human Services revoked its license due to repeated safety and conduct violations.[16] Currently, to house children in a detention center, they must be moved to out-of-county detention facilities.[17] However, “available beds are hard to come by—some youths are even sent out of state to Jefferson County [or] Ohio.”[18]

Allegheny County’s Chief Probation Officer has stated that children held in jail would have been moved from jail to detention if the bed space were available.[19] Instead, Allegheny County is continuing to hold children at the jail by default, without the required presumption that they would be housed in a juvenile facility.[20]

Along with this presumption, the JJRA requires counties to maintain a juvenile detention center.[21] The incentive for states to conform to the law is the removal of grant funding for those who are not compliant.[22] While counties such as Erie and Philadelphia appear to be complying with the JJRA, it remains uncertain how, or if, Allegheny County is complying with this law.


[2] 34 U.S.C.A. § 11133 (a)(11)(B)

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] 34 U.S.C.A. § 11133 (a)


[11] Id.

[12] Id.


[14] Id.




[18] Id.


[20] Id.

[21] 34 U.S.C.A. § 11133 (a)(11)(B)

[22] 34 U.S.C.A. § 11133 (a)

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