Senate Passes Juvenile Justice Reform Measure, Again

Harrisburg – Today, the state Senate once again approved legislation sponsored by Senator Lisa Baker (R-20) to require judges to state on the record the reasons behind disposition orders. She offered the following remarks regarding the political gameplaying that has surrounded this and two other bills intended to reform the juvenile justice system and protect the fundamental rights of kids entering the system in the wake of the “Kids for Cash” scandal in Luzerne County:

Senate Bill 818 is familiar to us. The Senate passed it unanimously last June. It is a simple bill of important purpose. It requires juvenile court judges to put on the record their reasoning for the decisions they make in respect to the placement of juveniles who come before them. It is one of several measures designed to prevent the judicial corruption that infected the juvenile justice system in Luzerne County. If sentences are being handed out disproportionate to the offenses, this record will help reviewers in detecting seeming imbalance or possible misconduct.

So why do we need to vote this measure again? Because this bill was sent back to us, not on its merits, but in an attempt to leverage other legislation.

Ask just about anyone in Luzerne County, and they will tell you that reform legislation is needed and demanded. People rightfully expect each branch of state government to put in place every reasonable remedy possible to prevent a repetition.

The problem is, the thinking inside state government does not always match community sentiment.

Some people down here seem convinced that judicial rulemaking by itself is sufficient. Certainly, judicial rulemaking has an important Constitutional role in our system. Yet, the unavoidable truth is judicial rules did not discourage horrific judicial misdeeds over an extended period of time, nor did judicial rules provide the sanctions that brought the corrupt judges to justice.

Then there are legislators who only reluctantly move juvenile justice reform bills if they can use them to gain passage of other issues. They really should read the report and recommendations of the Interbranch Commission to be reminded that this is serious stuff. Three years after the corruption came into public light, political gameplaying with reform is impossible to explain or justify. There are two other bills, including the most consequential of all, for mandatory counsel, that the House should send to the Governor, without the delay this bill encountered.

Contact: Jennifer Wilson
(570) 675-3931

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