Both Dougj and John wrote about this:
In 2007, a frantic call from an alarmed parent prompted Juvenile Law Center to investigate irregularities in the Luzerne County Pennsylvania juvenile court. Juvenile Law Center discovered that hundreds of children were appearing without attorneys before juvenile court judge Mark Ciavarella, and were then quickly adjudicated delinquent (found guilty) and sent to out-of-home placements for very minor offenses. In 2008, after further investigation, Juvenile Law Center petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to identify those children and vacate and expunge their records. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court initially denied that request.
A lot has happened since then:
The U.S. Attorney later filed federal criminal charges against Ciavarella and another Luzerne County judge for accepting nearly $2.9 million in alleged kickbacks from the developer and former owner of two private for-profit juvenile facilities in exchange for placing children in these facilities through the Luzerne County juvenile court process.
In 2009, after learning of the illegal kickback scandal, Juvenile Law Center returned to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and asked the Court to vacate and clear the records of all of the youth who appeared in tainted juvenile proceedings before Ciavarella. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted Juvenile Law Center’s request and issued an order to vacate and expunge the juvenile adjudications and records of all of the thousands of youth who appeared before Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008.
Juvenile Law Center, along with pro bono co-counsel Hangley Aronchick Segal and Pudlin, filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of children who were adjudicated or placed by Ciavarella, as well as on behalf of their parents. The lawsuit seeks monetary damages from the former judges, private facilities, and the developer under federal civil rights laws and the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
As a result of their involvement in the corrupt “kids-for-cash” conspiracy, Michael Conahan, Robert Powell (the owner of the facilities), and Robert Mericle (the developer) pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges; former judge Mark Ciavarella is scheduled to go to trial in February 2011.
Ciavarella did go to trial, and that’s where we are.
These judges are corrupt, but even the best case in the juvenile justice detention system is a disaster.
I have never, not once, seen a kid emerge from a locked detention facility any better than he or she went in. Not with a better understanding of what they did or why they did it and how they might avoid doing it again, not better off emotionally, physically or academically. Some hold their own and emerge exactly the same as when they went in, except they have now gained valuable experience in navigating a prison setting and many, many come out worse.
Detaining children in locked facilities for status offenses, property crimes or minor drug infractions makes no sense and is an absolutely shameful waste of money that could be put towards actually trying to help them make some kind of reasonable restitution or progress towards recovery from whatever it is that landed them in court in the first place. It also runs directly counter to our stated goal in juvenile justice: assessment, intervention and prevention, not ill-advised ever-shifting politically driven notions of vengeance or punishment.
A special master has been appointed to look at why the system failed in Pennsylvania, and here’s what he found:
He also called upon police departments and schools to consider alternative resolutions to cases, short of taking them to court. Too often, Grim said, school officials were too quick to refer cases to court that might have been handled with less intrusive measures.
“It was apparent that many school officials supported Ciavarella’s ‘get tough’ policy without really giving thought to what it meant,” Grim said. “They would immediately pick up the phone and call police because they knew if they reported it and it got in front of a ‘get tough’ judge . . . the troublemaker would be out of their hair.”