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Advancing both youth redemption and community safety.

We hold accountable youth who commit delinquent acts, seeking justice on behalf of victims and their families, while recognizing the potential for youth rehabilitation and development.

Two important tenets of the juvenile justice system are accountability and community safety. 

We understand that ensuring the safety of the community and the restoration of victims is tantamount to our role as juvenile prosecutors. We also believe that youth redemption—within a developmentally-appropriate framework that prioritizes progress over perfection—is not mutually exclusive with community safety and accountability. 

Ultimately, our goal is to develop holistic responses to address the harm caused to victims and promote community service and safety.


“By almost every measure, juvenile crime is down in Pennsylvania, but children labeled as delinquent for relatively minor offenses are often trapped in a system that doesn’t offer them the help they need.”

District Attorney
City of Philadelphia


The District Attorney’s Office is committed to avoiding the prosecution of anyone under 18 in the adult court system. 

When an alleged criminal incident occurs and a young person is arrested, the police submit their paperwork to attorneys in the District Attorney’s Office Charging Unit who then decide on appropriate charges.

The cases of young people under the age of 18 are processed through the juvenile court system. In rare cases, and only for the most serious crimes, a young person may be charged as an adult. For those cases, we assign our most experienced attorneys. 

Depending on the circumstances of the criminal allegations, after arrest, a young person may either go home under the supervision of their family or may be held at the Juvenile Justice Services Center until their detention hearing.



We track the following changes in advancing juvenile justice:
  • A 1/3 decrease in the number of young people in pretrial detention since early 2020
  • Since 2017, the juvenile congregate care population has decreased by 80%e
  • 88% of juvenile cases filed in adult court are reslated to be tried in juvenile court

“Kids are kids. 

Nothing about the adult system contemplates their needs and their uniqueness. That they can change and become productive, caring adults.”

Former Supervisor
Juvenile Justice Unit


After young people are charged, they and their parents or guardian complete an intake to provide background information and discuss the possibility of diversion. 
  • Detention Hearing. If a youth is not appropriate for diversion or does not want to participate, they will attend a detention hearing held in the Juvenile Justice Services Center presided over by a Juvenile Hearing Court Officer. For this hearing, the young person is appointed a public defense attorney unless an attorney is hired by their family.
    At the hearing, an Assistant District Attorney from the Juvenile Justice Unit presents the facts and allegations against the charged young person. The parties then decide if the young person should remain at the JJSC until a pretrial or adjudicatory hearing. If the young person is released to their family, the parties determine appropriate alternatives to detention. 
  • Pretrial. At pretrial, the ADA will give an admission offer to the defense attorney. The defense attorney will then discuss this offer with the young person.
    An offer generally includes admitting guilt to one or more charges as well as recommendations for a disposition. If the offer is accepted, then the admission is usually entered the same day. If the offer is rejected, the case goes to an adjudicatory hearing.
  • Adjudicatory Hearings. A trial held before a Juvenile Court Judge, an adjudicatory hearing is where the ADA presents witnesses and evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the charges brought against the young person. The defense attorney has the opportunity to cross-examine all prosecution witnesses as well as to present additional evidence and witnesses. If the judge finds the young person guilty of any charges, then the case proceeds to the disposition stage.

Throughout this process, an Assistant District Attorney or a Victim & Witness Services Coordinator keeps victims in the juvenile case informed of outcomes and next steps.


The Juvenile Court System differs the most from the adult system in disposition. 

Dispositions can be made immediately after an adjudicatory hearing during which the prosecuting attorney recommends a disposition to the judge. The defense attorney can make a different recommendation. Factors that may inform disposition include prior record, charge severity, incidental circumstances and a Victim Impact Statement. 

While there are three possible dispositions—and a young person could be found to be not delinquent—the most common two dispositions are:  

  • Adjudication of delinquency, which requires the judge to find that a young person is in need of treatment, rehabilitation and supervision. A young person who is adjudicated delinquent may be placed on probation or sent to a residential placement.
    While on probation, they can live with their parents or guardian, but must participate in an alternative to detention program and report to a probation officer, as well as pay victim restitution. They can be sent to a residential placement if they violate probation rules.
    A judge may send a young person to residential placement, which varies in security, if they can be a danger to themselves or the community. Once a young person shows they are no longer a safety concern, and the placement facility recommends discharge, the young person is then released back to the community and placed on aftercare probation. To assist with their community reentry, they are assigned a probation officer and required to attend a transition school if they do not have a high school diploma or GED.While in residential placement or aftercare probation, the young person participates in review hearings with the prosecuting and defense attorneys, probation officer and the judge or hearing officer to check on their progress and make changes to programming or detention as needed. 
  • Adjudication of delinquency deferred, which means the judge is waiting to make a decision. During this time, the young person goes on Interim Probation, which generally lasts 90 days. They report to a probation officer, participate in an alternative to detention program, and report their progress at review hearings.
    Victims may make recommendations to the ADA, such as completing community-service hours, writing an apology letter or an order to stay away from the victim. If restitution is owed, the young person may be expected to earn the money to pay it back through the program.
    The young person is discharged from probation without being adjudicated delinquent once they have successfully completed the program and paid off restitution prior to the end of the 90 days.Interim probation may be extended if the young person is struggling to  reach these goals. However, if the young person breaks probation rules or is found guilty of another crime during probation, they may be adjudicated delinquent.


Chesley Lightsey
[email protected]
Assistant Supervisor:
Yasmine Rosario
[email protected]
Supervisor, Direct File:
Lakeisha Fields
[email protected]