Governor Tom Corbett today took part in a signing of a new juvenile justice reform package designed to protect children within Pennsylvania's criminal court system.
Senate Bills 815 and 818 were created in response to the 2008 "Cash for Kids" scandal that resulted in the wrongful incarceration of numerous juveniles and, ultimately, the imprisonment of two former Luzerne County judges.
"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.
Joining Corbett at today's ceremony at the Luzerne County Courthouse was Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), the bills' primary sponsor. Both measures were unanimously passed by the General Assembly.
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 also specifically name the facility, or type of facility, as well as the reasoning behind the decision to select that facility.
The new laws also are in line with a recent state Supreme Court ruling that requires juveniles under 14 to have legal representation at all delinquency hearings.
Defendants 14 and older may waive that right, but only in limited circumstances. Corbett signed Senate Bill 815 at the courthouse today and takes effect in 60 days.
Senate Bill 818 was officially signed into law on April 3 and was effective immediately.
Both bills were supported by the Juvenile Court Judges Commission, the Juvenile Defenders Association and the Juvenile Law Center.
The two former county judges, Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan, were convicted of accepting millions of dollars from the owner of a for-profit detention center in return for sentencing juveniles to his facilities. Both men are serving lengthy prison terms and hundreds of their juvenile court rulings were vacated.
"Once again, we see that the direct sunlight is our greatest protection from shadowy dealings,'' Corbett said.