IF MOVIEMAKERS ever decide to put Luzerne County's dastardly juvenile justice scandal on screen, the final scene probably will look a lot like what unfolded Monday afternoon in the courthouse.
A smiling, grandfatherly type governor signs his name to new laws drafted in response to the misdeeds of two, corrupt county judges and their fat cat cronies, effectively signaling that the bad guys got what they deserve and no harm will again come to our children. The End.
Except, this should not be the end of the kids-for-cash saga, not yet.
Much remains to be done in the real world of Pennsylvania policy-setting and lawmaking – and regarding area residents' ethical conduct – to rectify all the things that led up to the preposterous crime, first made public in January 2009. Only you and like-minded people, including angry moms and dads disgusted at the blatant misuse of power, can ensure those actions are taken in the months and years ahead.
The good news: You have blueprints to follow and plenty of allies.
A specially formed group called the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice explored the scandal, gathering testimony from more than 60 people, and released a report in May 2010 with dozens of recommendations. Similarly, the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center issued a string of suggested reforms. (Visit www.jlc.org and click on "Luzerne Kids-for-Cash Scandal.")
Kudos to state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, for quickly seizing on some of those ideas and spearheading a four-part package of bills. Thank you, also, to the many state lawmakers from this region and beyond who enthusiastically backed the bills with their votes.
Stalled, however, is Senate Bill 816, which calls for the Office of Victim Advocate to represent and advocate for the interests of victims of juvenile crime. Also lagging, but expected to be finalized soon, is a proposed law that discourages court personnel from putting teenagers in shackles.
Meanwhile, based on the recommendations issued nearly two years ago, several practices should be reviewed and probably adjusted within the state Department of Education, the Judicial Conduct Board, the court system and other realms dealing with juvenile crime. That means adults like you need to keep attention focused on these important matters and not let up.
After all, the dirty judges' wrongdoing became exposed thanks largely to an unwavering pursuit of justice on the part of certain youths' parents. Only a similar passion will ensure that this shameful scenario reaches a fitting, if un-cinematic, conclusion.
Read an investigative panel's 2010 report on Luzerne County's juvenile justice scandal, or a summary of its recommendations, at www.pacourts.us/Links/Public/InterbranchCommissionJuvenileJustice.htm