Juvenile Justice Laws

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New state laws meant to protect the juvenile justice system are expected to be signed by Governor Tom Corbett.

The laws were created after the corruption scandal involving two Luzerne County judges who profited from sending juveniles to detention centers.

One bill passed both the state House and Senate Tuesday and is waiting for the governor's signature.

Two other new laws will likely be heading his way soon.

All provide new protections for juveniles in Pennsylvania courtrooms, and they come after the scandal that rocked the juvenile courts in Luzerne County.

Judge Mark Ciavarella is in a federal prison after federal prosecutors said he ran a juvenile courtroom where few young people charged with crimes had lawyers and kids were sent off to detention without him giving much of a reason.

Soon, that will not be allowed in Pennsylvania.

Bills are close to becoming law that will:

  • make judges put reasoning for sentences on the record
  • force juveniles to be represented by attorneys in almost all cases
  • and prohibit shackling of juveniles in the courtroom

"They're fundamental constitutional protections we should afford to our children. We do it in adult court so I think it's essential that we have it for children," said Pennsylvania Senator Lisa Baker, (R) 20th District.

The lawmaker from Luzerne County sponsored the bills.

She also led to the creation of a commission in 2009 that studied all aspects of juvenile justice in Luzerne County and beyond.

It came up with the recommendations for these laws.

"I think we're on the road demonstrating that sometimes the wheels of government take a while but people listened, people took action and I think Pennsylvania's juvenile justice system will be better in the long run," Baker added.

The scandal that rocked Luzerne County got national attention. Now, the opposite. These bills would make Pennsylvania a leader in protecting juvenile rights.

Those who deal with juvenile court say it's about time.

"It is wonderful that Harrisburg has stepped up and did this. It is what needs to be done. We need to protect our juveniles," said Luzerne County District Attorney Stephanie Salavantis.

She is happy about the action under the Capitol dome and said she sees progress under the courthouse dome too.

"It was terrible what occurred in our courtrooms, but working with the judges and working with the courts, I see how dedicated people are to helping juveniles in our County," Salavantis added.

Senator Lisa Baker hopes to have Governor Corbett sign the bills into law in Luzerne County. What happened there is the reason for all the changes.