Following two years of work, the Allegheny County Commission on Juvenile Justice has released a report outlining recommendations and rules for those working in all levels of the juvenile justice system.
“Among the recommendations in the report are: judicial ethics, including mandatory formal training sessions on judicial ethics at regular intervals. Judicial training: including a recommendation that all family division judges attend a minimum of 12 hours of continuing education each year,” said Allegheny County President Judge Donna Jo McDaniel.
The report was mandated by the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice following the 2008 Kids for Cash scandal in Luzerne County. Through that, two judges were convicted of accepting money from builders of two private juvenile facilities for imposing harsh sentences on juvenile offenders, in many cases for very small offenses, which then increased the number of inmates at their facilities.
Chair of the Allegheny County Commission on Juvenile Justice, Judge Dwayne D. Woodruff said the prevailing thought is that something like that could never happen in Allegheny County. To be sure of that, he said training for all involved in the system is important.
“There’s education for probation officers, for hearing officers, for the public defenders, for associate district attorneys as well – [people] all across the board,” he said.
In addition to judges having to undergo continuing education, the recommendations offer some guidance on how to treat juvenile offenders in court.
“Juveniles, in the past, were handcuffed and shackled when they came into the courtroom,” he said, “that is no longer the case. All juveniles are no longer handcuffed or shackled when they come into the courtroom.”
Woodruff added treating juveniles fairly in the court system is critical, as they represent the future of Allegheny County.
“If a kid does something that is inappropriate, how do we punish that kid? That’s not the idea in regard to juvenile court. The idea is, yes they have to walk through the consequences of their actions, but at the same time we want to make sure we instruct and education and provide treatment for that kid, so that when he has to make that decision again in the future, he’s going to make one that’s more appropriate,” he said.
State Supreme Court Justice Debra Todd said Allegheny is the first county to release a juvenile justice plan, and added she hopes other counties follow.