Imagine walking in front of a judge. You are 13 years old and you have been advised that a lawyer is not needed because you were just being an adolescent. You realize that you were wrong, and you are very apologetic. Then the judge peers down on you and asks you 2 or 3 questions. He then takes your guilty plea and sends you away for 3 or 6 months or more after a 4 minute trial. Your parents are in shock and you are shackled and sent to a strange cold place. Incidents like these were the norm in northeastern Pennsylvania at Luzerne County Courthouse. PA Child Care, a private for -profit detention center slowly became the center of a far-reaching scandal that challenged the heart of juvenile adjudication and rehabilitation.
The author of 'Kids for Cash', William Ecenbarger exposes the corrupt system by taking the readers on a journey through the historical background of a mining town that welcomed bribes, nepotism, and Napoleonic law. The 2 judges in question who were later stripped of their positions are Judge Mark A. Ciavarella and Judge Michael T. Conahan. Ciavarella sent more youth away than all of the youth courts in Pennsylvania and over 50% of the offenders were pressured to waive legal representation. Additionally, both judges were paid almost 2 million dollars from PA Child Care.
This book is a must read for every educator, advocate, lawyer, social worker, and those who believe in social justice. Individuals did attempt to bring the truth to light on several occasions, but were silenced or ignored. The lawyers and other adults that worked in the courtroom displayed compliance and agreement by being scared passive bystanders.
The goal of juvenile law is to discourage illegal behavior as youth grow into adults. Many of the youth that came in the path of Ciavarella's wrath became adult criminals and one committed suicide. On a more positive note, one of the youth attended law school with the intention of providing a more equitable experience to future juveniles. Justice surfaced for the judges who were sentenced extensive jail time and the records of the youth were expunged. Check out the video.
The stories of the youth, their parents, and those who were tangled in the scandal will make you pay attention to this growing epidemic of solving adolescent problems and behaviors with adjudication devoid of rehabilitation.