Ferlo Leading the Charge for Juvenile Justice Reform

State Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Pittsburgh) is leading the charge of state legislators who are determined to reform policies that allowed a Luzerne County Juvenile Court scandal, considered to be among the most heinous juvenile rights violations in American legal history.

Luzerne County Judges Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella pled guilty in February for conspiring in a 5-year kickback scheme that affected over 2,500 juvenile defendants.

“The avarice and rapacity displayed by Judge Ciavarella and Judge Conahan in the “kids for cash” scandal in Luzerne County must be addressed by both the State Senate and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court,” Ferlo said. “Our youth should have equal protection under the law and should not be allowed or expected to waive their right to legal Counsel during interrogations or in a court of law.”

As the President Judge of Luzerne County, Conahan secured lucrative state contracts for 2 specific private jails that house juveniles, and as presiding juvenile judge, Ciavarella ensured that the jails were filled with a steady stream of juvenile offenders. Both received under-the-table kickbacks amounting to over $2.6 million from these detention facilities.

The fallout from this conspiracy has been grand in scale: articles in the New York Times and The London Times; a class-action law-suite on behalf of impacted juveniles, seeking monetary damages under federal civil rights laws and the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act; an order by the PA State Supreme Court to expunge records of impacted youth; and now, comprehensive legislative action by the State Senate.

Senator Ferlo and Senator Lisa Baker (R – Lehman Township), of Luzerne County, are introducing a package of Bills to: mandate that attorneys be present to represent juveniles in court; provide restitution to those juvenile defendants who were wrongly sentenced, provide reimbursement to families of those victims for legal fees and other costs, and urges a statewide forensic audit of the juvenile justice system looking specifically for similar abuses.

“I am committed to addressing this issue over the long term, with urgency and diplomacy,” Ferlo said. “My heart goes out to the exploited young people of Luzerne County and their families.”