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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Makes Changes in Juvenile Justice System

New changes made by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court aim to speed the appellate review of cases where juvenile offenders are placed outside their homes in court delinquency matters. These are the types of cases in which juveniles are usually sent to a detention center of a residential facility.

The changes mark a difference in the length of time out-of-placement cases are reviewed.

Court officials say this should help appellate courts identify instances of sentencing abuse, as was the case in Luzerne County. 

Former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. was sentenced to nearly 30 years in federal prison after taking $1 million dollars in bribes from the builders of a juvenile detention center in a case that was known as “Kids for Cash.”

Known for his harsh style, Ciavarella filled the centers with children, many for first-time or minor offenses. Also convicted was Senior Judge Michael Conahan. He was sentenced for 17.5 years. Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald Castille called the scandal, “a true black eye." 

“The idea is if we have expedited appeals, the sentencing judge will have to write an opinion within five days of getting the appeal explaining just why placement of one of these juveniles, out of home, overnight or for a period of time at one of these facilities is appropriate,” he said.

Following what happened in Luzerne County, a comprehensive report was prepared by the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice. The report said juveniles often complete their detainment in less time than it typically takes to process an appeal from an adjudication of guilt.

The commission recommended the Supreme Court create a special process to review a juvenile court judge’s decision after an adjudication of delinquency that removes a child from his or her home.

Over the past couple years, the Supreme Court and The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts have implemented twelve rule changes based on suggestions made in Interbranch Commission’s report. Castille says they plan on implementing several others.