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April 9, 2012 | By | Posted in Governor

PA gov signs reforms in wake of ‘Kids-for-Cash’ scandal

Requires mandatory counsel, judges must state reasons for incarcerations
 
By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
 
HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett signed two bills into law intended to protect children in Pennsylvania’s criminal court system after a major scandal in which several juveniles were incarcerated improperly.

Under the new laws, judges must state their reasons on the record for each juvenile disposition, as well as the goals, terms and conditions of the sentence. If a child is to be committed to out-of-home placement, the court must name the facility, or type of facility, as well as state the reasons for selecting that facility.
 
The second law would require counsel to be present anytime a juvenile is before a judge.
The General Assembly unanimously passed the measures in response to the so-called “Kids-for-Cash” scandal in 2008. Two former Luzerne County judges, Mark Ciavarella Jr. and Michael Conahan, were receiving millions of dollars in kickbacks from the owner of a private juvenile detention facility as payment for incarcerating children for seemingly minor offenses.
 
“Four years ago, Pennsylvanians witnessed a scandal that shocked the conscience. Now, we are taking action to prevent future injustice against our children,” Corbett said in a statement after the signing Monday at the Luzerne County Courthouse.

The two judges were convicted in 2011 on charges including racketeering, fraud and extortion. Ciavarella and Conahan are serving sentences in federal prison for 28 years and 17 years, respectively.
 
The owner of the facility is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty.
 
Even with the new laws, the justice system works with people of integrity and fortitude at the helm, said state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Pike, sponsor of the two bills, on the Senate floor before the bills were approved recently.
 
The Juvenile Law Center, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit law firm that advocates for children’s legal rights, supported the reforms.
 
"We think that will add a lot of safeguards to the system that weren't there before," said Lourdes Rosado, associate director of the law center.
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