More than 2,000 young people in Pennsylvania are trying to put one of the nation’s worst juvenile justice scandals behind them, NPR reports. It’s been a year since a former judge was convicted in a “kids for cash” scandal. New rules intended to protect the rights of children took effect this week, but questions about Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system remain. Judge Mark Ciavarella was convicted of racketeering and conspiracy for taking nearly a million dollars from the developer of two for-profit prisons. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated 2,251 convictions from his courtroom.
“This was a huge black eye,” says Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Ron Castille. “That barely describes the enormity of what was going on up there. Because of that we made a lot of changes in juvenile rules.” The changes are supposed to prevent another “kids for cash” scandal. For one thing, the use of shackles is now strongly discouraged. Starting this month, defendants in juvenile court will not be allowed to waive their right to counsel, except in rare cases. That’s a big step forward, says Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, which helped bring the Ciavarella case to light. Levick says Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states that do not provide money to counties to defend those who can’t afford a lawyer. “That means that we really have justice by geography here,” Levick says. “Kids in smaller counties, in poorer counties, will often get very poor representation.”