Act 21

In August 2003, the Pennsylvania Legislature enacted Act 21 for adjudicated youth, aging out of the juvenile justice system who have a "mental abnormality" that renders them unable to control their violent sexual impulses.

The Act mandates DHS provide mental health and sex-offense specific treatment to an identified population that had been adjudicated of certain sex crimes, received treatment in a juvenile program, yet remains a significant risk to sexually re-offend after reaching the age of 21, an age when oversight by the juvenile justice system typically ends. The Act requires the referral of such individuals who have committed these specific crimes to the Pennsylvania Sexual Offenders Assessment Board (SOAB) ninety days prior to their 20th birthday for purposes of determining if the individual has "serious difficulty in controlling sexually violent behavior." If so determined, a petition for a mental health hearing will be made for the determination of civil commitment to the Sexual Responsibility and Treatment Program (SR & TP) on the grounds of Torrance State Hospital.

ACT 21 Documents 


Act 21 established an advisory committee for the purposes of developing a treatment program and standards of care for individuals civilly committed under the Act. The advisory committee is made up of individuals representing the Office of Children, Youth, and Families (OCYF), the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS), the Juvenile Court Judges Commission (JCJC), the Sexual Offenders Assessment Board (SOAB), probation officers, and private providers. Copies of the program standards are available by contacting OMHSAS on Harrisburg.

Stakeholders & Roles

  • Sexual Offenders Assessment Board (SOAB) — Will act upon referrals, complete initial and periodic assessments, make recommendations to the court and testify in court proceedings. The Board will also provide on-going training to the assessors as well as other stakeholders when appropriate.
  • Juvenile Court Judges Commission (JCJC) — Will oversee and process the initial court proceedings.
  • Chief Juvenile Probation Officers — Will identify potential clients for referral and assessment. They will also be responsible for providing information to the SOAB and ensuring the Board has access to the records and the individual.
  • Juvenile Detention Facilities — Will provide secure housing for clients during their initial assessment and court proceedings. It is understood that any "housing" of individuals in detention facilities is a disruption of their treatment and so every opportunity to minimize the use of detention facilities should be attempted and that when detention is utilized it should be for the shortest time period possible.
  • County Solicitors — Will process the referral, assessment, and commitment process. They will also prosecute any subsequent reviews, such as the mandatory yearly recommitment process.
  • County Commissioners — Will provide oversight to all county responsibilities including, but not limited to; identifying potential clients, processing referrals & commitments (this includes the arrangements of transportation, the hiring of expert witnesses for the client and financial resources necessary to accomplish the same), and planning for aftercare.
  • County MH/MR Administrators — Will plan for supportive services and aftercare for this special population as part of the "Service Area Planning" initiative with their respective State Hospital.
  • Public Defenders — Will likely be assigned to provide legal representation as appropriate.
  • Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) — Provides the leadership and program oversight for the SR & TP.
  • Department of Human Services (DHS) — Has the responsibility for all aspects of Act 21 implementation and oversight.
  • Pennsylvania Legislature — Provides direction and guidance as well as addressing changes/amendments in the Act as needed.
  • The Governor's Office — Provides the leadership and vision for DHS.
  • Bureau of Community and Hospital Operations — Provides direct supervision and liaison to the SR & TP. It also provides technical and resources support for the facility.
  • Department of Corrections — Provides consultative and technical advice on issues related to safety and security.
  • Treatment Providers — Design and implement programs to meet the program standards as delineated through contracts with the Commonwealth.
  • The General Public — Provides input and feedback about the efficacy of the program.
  • The clients and their families — Provide input and feedback to protect the rights of the clients and to improve the services provided over time.
  • The victims and their families — Provide input and feedback into the efficacy of the program and services needed to provide safe and effective aftercare.


  • Our clients are individuals with very specific treatment needs first. Treatment and habilitation are our primary goals.
  • Treatment interruptions should be minimized however and whenever possible.
  • Aftercare is a critical component of treatment and planning begins at the time of referral.
  • All services and interventions should be culturally sensitive and specific.
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorders are prevalent in our client population and treatment must have a specific and intensive plan to address this fact.
  • The SR & TP will strive to achieve the highest quality of service while updating initiatives consistent with evidence-based and best practices in the field of sex offender treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Act 21 became law on August 14, 2003 in response to increasing concerns about the release of a juvenile sex offender who had been determined to still present a high risk of danger to the community. The Act sets forth a process for identifying individuals about to turn 21 who may still be in need of further treatment before they return to their community. Act 21 provides a process for the civil commitment of these individuals to a program designed to provide specialized treatment.

The client's juvenile probation officer makes a referral through the county solicitor to the Sexual Offenders Assessment Board (SOAB) who completes an assessment and makes a recommendation. If the SOAB recommends further treatment, the county solicitor will petition the court for a commitment hearing. The individual has a right to an attorney and to be examined by an expert in sexual offenses to help prepare a case on their behalf. The judge will render the commitment decision.

The commitment period is not to exceed one year but can be renewed yearly for an indefinite number of years.

No. This is a decision to be made between the individual and their legal representative. However, the SOAB is still required to review relevant documents and provide the court with its recommendations.

This is a residential program specifically designed for sex offenders with mental abnormalities that reach their 21st birthday and age out of the juvenile justice system. The program will be located on the grounds of Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland County.

Yes, the program is part of the hospital but is a separate and secure unit on the grounds.

Each county is responsible for all aspects of the commitment, recommitment process and providing aftercare for individuals from their respective county.

Yes, however, the SRTP will make every attempt not to disrupt the individual's treatment. Whenever possible, individuals will not be transported back and forth, however there will be times when individuals will need to be transported back to their home county to participate in an assessment and/or a court proceeding. Video conference hearings and examinations are also utilized to minimize travel and treatment disruptions.

The home county. All aspects of the process begin on the county level and this includes, but is not limited to; making the arrangements, facilitating and pay for the transportation. When the recommitment hearing is due this process once again reverts to the home county for processing. The SRTP, however, has been able to accommodate various counties in assisting with transportation in specific instances.

If they have not yet been civilly committed and are still considered a juvenile they will most likely stay in the nearest juvenile detention center. During their stay they will need to be segregated from the rest of the population at the detention center.

This would only apply to subsequent hearings once the individual has been committed to the program. Overnight travel has not been required to this point as video conferencing has been utilized to reduce the amount of transport and overnights that would be needed. If the presence of the resident is required the time of the hearing has been scheduled to allow for sufficient one day travel time.

Yes. The individual can also petition the court at any time during their one-year commitment if they believe they no longer meet the criteria for continued commitment.