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Each legislative session thousands of bills and amendments are introduced in the Pennsylvania Legislature. Only a fraction become law, and an even smaller portion receive wide media coverage.

These bills impact the lives of people living in Pennsylvania every day.

Each week The Sentinel will highlight one bill that has not received widespread attention.

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The effects of pretrial detention — when someone is held in jail while awaiting trial, generally because of a lack of ability to pay bail — can be detrimental to a person’s life.

Even a short stay in jail can result in the loss of employment, a higher likelihood of being sentenced to prison upon conviction, longer post-conviction sentences and, even in the case of low risk defendants, a higher risk of committing future crimes, according to the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

For juveniles, being held in an adult jail can be even more devastating.

Rep. Joanna McClinton, D-Delaware County, has introduced a bill aimed at preventing those effects on youths.

“The effects of pre-trial detention and the abuses that accompany it are particularly harmful to juveniles’ physical, mental, social and developmental health,” she wrote in co-sponsorship letter. “Pre-trial detention is uniquely devastating to children, often leading to stunted or deviant adulthood, higher rates of recidivism, and imposes a heavy burden on family members and communities who are most invested in their recovery and success.”

Currently, juveniles are able to be held in adult facilities if they are accused of certain offenses.

House Bill 1697 would limit those offenses to only criminal homicide. A juvenile accused of any other offense would not be able to be held in an adult jail.

McClinton wrote that juveniles held in adult jails are at increased risk of suicide and account for a disproportionate portion of inmate-perpetrated sexual assault.

“Juveniles experiencing behavioral health problems simply get worse in detention, not better, as they do not receive effective treatment,” she wrote. “The transition into incarceration itself is believed to be responsible for some of the observed increase mental illnesses in detention.”

Email Joshua Vaughn at jvaughn@cumberlink.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Sentinel_Vaughn.

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Cops & Courts Reporter

Crime & Courts Reporter at The Sentinel.

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