In a harsh and devastating report, a commission set up to investigate the “kids for cash” scandal in Luzerne County, Pa. yesterday issued far-reaching recommendations aimed at overhauling the state’s juvenile justice system, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. “We had judges who if they weren’t criminal they were incompetent. We had defense lawyers who didn’t perform their functions. We had prosecutors who stood by,” said commission chairman John Cleland.
The commission was created as a result of a federal corruption probe that led to charges against two judges accused of receiving more than $2.8 million in payoffs from the operators of two juvenile detention centers. Among the recommendations: ensuring juveniles have access to defense counsel; improving oversight of judges and the accountability of the state Judicial Conduct Board; mandatory ethics training for county and appellate judges; ending or reducing the use of shackles on juveniles. The report described as “Dickensian” the role of former judge Mark Ciavarella, who ordered children as young as 11 to jail for failure to pay fines, “effectively using the county detention center as a debtor’s prison for children.”