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Openness would aid juvie justice system EDWARD LEWIS OPINION

State senators Lisa Baker and John R. Gordner are lobbying to have the Senate Judiciary Committee conduct a hearing in Luzerne County to give families and juvenile advocacy groups a podium to discuss the county’s corrupt juvenile justice system.

A one-day public hearing won’t cut it.

It’s a good idea, though. At least it will let a few parents vent their anger.

The hearing can be held in the courtroom formerly occupied by Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr.

Baker and Gordner brought up an interesting point. They want to “shed some light on this terrible situation and to discuss potential legislative remedies.”

Here’s a legislative remedy: Open juvenile court and arrest records to the public the same way adult court and arrest records are open.

If juvenile records are open, at least the public and the media can scrutinize and question the criminal charges and disposition the same way it is done with adults who are criminally charged.

Although he denied the allegation through his lawyer, claiming he never jailed a juvenile for financial benefit, federal authorities have charged that longtime juvenile judge Ciavarella and Judge Michael T. Conahan did, indeed, benefit by concealing their receipt of more than $2.6 million from January 2003 to April 2007 from two juvenile detention centers.

Ciavarella presided over juvenile court for more than a decade.

Sealed juvenile records got us in this embarrassing mess in the first place.

Information hard to come by

Only criminally charged juveniles, parents, juvenile probation officers, police officers and lawyers, or lack thereof, are allowed in juvenile court.

The public and we in the media are not permitted inside.

It makes it difficult to pick up trends, crimes and sentences for convicted juveniles.

If two juveniles are charged with the same offense, there’s no way of finding out if the sentence imposed by a judge is fair to both.

The public has to rely on the Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission for statistics.

Are you interested to know how many juvenile dispositions there were last year?

You have to wait – several years.

The latest available statistics on the JCJC Web site for juvenile dispositions is from 2006.

When a judge sentences an adult to time behind bars, we know the length of time and if it is at the county correctional facility or a state prison.

There is only one county correctional facility, and more than two dozen state institutions.

I can dial a phone number or check a Web site to find out where an adult inmate is located.

Neither I nor the public can do that for convicted juveniles.

How many juvenile detention facilities are there in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania?

I have no idea.

Unlike the state Department of Corrections, which lists every institution and program for adults, the JCJC doesn’t have that information on its Web site.

If state lawmakers are serious about discussing “legislative remedies,” they should consider having juvenile court proceedings open for public inspection, and mandate Court of Common Pleas judges in larger counties rotate judicial assignments every two years.

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