Almost four years after a revamping of the juvenile justice system was recommended, state Chief Justice Ronald Castille said Monday the state Supreme Court has completed those suggestions.
In his final report, Castille said the state’s high court will have to continue to improve on Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system to restore its once model reputation ruined by two Luzerne County judges.
Castille’s report discusses 57 changes to rules governing appellate and juvenile courts suggested by the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice (ICJJ).
The ICJJ was created by Castille in August 2009 to review the juvenile justice court system in Luzerne County after former Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan were charged with illegally accepting $2.9 million from the builder and owner of two juvenile detention centers used by the county.
In May 2010, the ICJJ made recommendations to address issues in Luzerne County. The Supreme Court then adopted procedures, including:
* Juveniles will not be shackled during proceedings;
* Every juvenile is eligible for appointed legal representation;
* A lengthy questionnaire must be completed for any juvenile who wishes to admit to delinquent acts;
* A judge must place on the record why a juvenile was placed out of the home;
* A judge must consider the least restrictive out-of-home placement of a juvenile deemed delinquent.
Castille also discussed more than 2,300 juvenile records that were expunged after a review of every juvenile delinquency case handled by Ciavarella and Conahan and by Berks County Senior Judge Arthur Grim.
“The Supreme Court ordered monthly progress reports from Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Chester Muroski (now a senior judge) and President Judge Thomas Burke. The court has recently commended those two judges … for their efforts in addressing this tragedy and its consequences as the local level,” Castille wrote.
In January 2012, the Supreme Court ended its oversight of the county court system.
Castille wrote that there are only two areas of recommendations the high court did not address: mandatory juvenile education for judges assigned to delinquency cases and expedited appeals for certain orders relating to transfers of a juvenile case to and from criminal court.
Castille said there are several opportunities for judicial education available in a number of areas and because there are such a small amount of appeals, the high court did not think special rules needed to be adopted.
“These changes in the rules that we have made in instituting new procedures in the juvenile court system will strengthen what was already recognized nationally as an excellent juvenile justice system,” Castille said. “The Supreme Court and the judicial branch will continue to improve Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system in order to insure that its reputation is restored and that justice is dispensed fairly and impartially.”
Castille commended judges, lawyers, social workers and administrators who have worked to make the juvenile justice system a success.
“Unfortunately, two judges in Luzerne County have caused unimaginable taint to the laudable efforts of many dedicated individuals, conduct for which those two judges presently are paying dearly,” Castille said.
Ciavarella was sentenced in August 2011 to 28 years in prison. Conahan was sentenced to September 2011 to 17 1/2 years in prison.