The so-called “kids for cash” scandal tarnished the Luzerne County courthouse, and Monday Governor Tom Corbett attempted to lift a little of the stain left behind by the corruption by signing two new bills into law.
He did it in the courthouse in Wilkes-Barre where two former judges ran their “kids for cash” scheme for several years.
“We are taking action, you are taking action to prevent injustice to our children,” the governor told a group of about 70 people gathered in the Luzerne County Courthouse’s main atrium.
The governor believes the new laws will help erase the stain of a sordid chapter in Pennsylvania`s legal history.
The “kids for cash” scandal involved former Luzerne County judges Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella who took kickbacks for sentencing juveniles to private lockups.
Both are now serving long terms in federal prisons.
“It’s unfortunate we got to this situation,” said the governor.
He came to the courthouse in Wilkes-Barre to sign into law two bills that put checks and balances on juvenile courts across the state.
One mandates judges state on-the-record the reasons for terms of the sentence.
The other requires most juveniles to have legal representation at detention hearings.
Hillary Transue, 20, said if that law had been in place in 2007, Judge Ciavarella would never have sentenced her to three months at a wilderness camp for posting an online spoof of an assistant principal in Wilkes-Barre.
“And it’s just incredible that this cannot happen to children again,” said Transue, now a college student in New Hampshire. “For years now people have been working to make sure that children can actually see justice, which was missing in this county for so long.”
“Had a lawyer been with a child in most of these incidences, if not all of them, this scandal never would have occurred,” added Governor Corbett.
State Senator Lisa Baker from Luzerne County predicts more action.
She is sponsoring a bill that would prevent most young offenders from being shackled while in court.
“You’ll recall during the scandal, a 10-year-old child was taken away in shackles, removed from their parents,” said the Republican from the 20th Pennsylvania Senate District. “We’re going to have an elimination of that ability to shackle young people coming out of the courtroom unless there is a clear and present danger.