State DAs group prioritizing skill games, mental health, juvenile detention facilities

May 3—NORTHUMBERLAND — Long-term solutions are needed for juvenile detention facilities, mental health services and monitoring skills games in Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association's recently revealed it was prioritizing the public safety issues in a press release. Northumberland County District Attorney Mike O'Donnell agreed with the group's concerns.

In a letter to Gov. Josh Shapiro, association President Brian Sinnett, who is the district attorney of Adams County, and Executive Director Kelly Callihan listed the lack of juvenile detention facilities in the state, the growing mental health crisis in the counties, and the proliferation of skill games in communities as the top public safety priorities in need of answers, according to a press release.

In May 2023, the Juvenile Court Judges' Association reported that 15 detention facilities closed in Pennsylvania between 2006 and 2021, the release said.

There are only 13 facilities in Pennsylvania providing secure detention services and offering just over 400 staff-secured beds for juveniles.

The district attorneys said many counties are struggling to find space for juveniles in the criminal justice system.

"While the placement of juveniles in detention facilities should not be done liberally, it can serve as a valuable tool in the rehabilitation of troubled youth," O'Donnell said.

O'Donnell said he met with members of the association weeks ago and discussed the issues.

O'Donnell also agreed with the association about finding more ways to get mental health services in counties.

The association recommended more collaboration with state agencies, better integration of behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment, and more assistance on the local level, according to Sinnett.

"Many of our prosecutors have embraced diversion programs for non-violent crimes where individuals can receive treatment for mental health and substance use disorder," he said. "However, these diversion programs only work if there are resources available for treatment."

O'Donnell said his office supports the effort for more services.

"The Northumberland County District Attorney's office supports the Pennsylvania District Attorney's Association's stances and recognizes the pressing need for increased resources in mental health services," he said. "The positive effects of such support can be seen in Milton Borough, where collaboration between the Milton Police Department and a mental health professional has been a great success, addressing mental health situations and providing a blueprint for other local communities to build on."

The letter to Shapiro also said the association is not taking a stand on the legality of skill games, and that determination needs to be made by state lawmakers.

The association said district attorneys are focusing on the public safety impact caused by the proliferation of skill games.

Pizza shops, convenience stores and gas stations where skill games are found generally do not have a high level of security, the letter stated.

"This makes them vulnerable to thieves who target the establishments," the letter said.

O'Donnell said he is well aware of the amount of skill games in the county, and his office pays attention to the risks.

"As the popularity of skill games grows, our office is attentive to the associated risks, particularly for juveniles and the broader community," he said. "We urge parents to educate their children about the potential dangers of skill games and other forms of gambling."

O'Donnell said his office is working on ways for new programs and is constantly looking for funds from the state to assist the county.