An investigative journalist uncovers the greed and disregard for liberty at the heart of a judicial scandal that had lasting repercussions for children in Pennsylvania.
Between 2003 and 2008, Judge Mark A. Ciavarella sentenced thousands of adolescents, many of them first-time offenders, to for-profit treatment centers, often without informing them of their right to counsel. Many in the conservative community not only accepted such mistreatment of juveniles; they wholeheartedly endorsed it. They regarded Ciavarella and his cohorts in the Luzerne County Courthouse as old-fashioned advocates for tough love and zero tolerance. Probation officers, teachers, police and public defenders deferred to a bullying judge who handed down one-size-fits-all sentences while distraught parents watched their children taken away in shackles for minor infractions. Only when a local fraud examiner expressed concern that the judge was taking kickbacks from the treatment centers was a full investigation launched. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Ecenbarger (Walkin’ the Line: A Journey from Past to Present Along the Mason-Dixon, 2000) details the travesty from several different perspectives: the juveniles and their parents, the corrupt judge and his cronies, and the officials who brought the case to trial. He also discusses the plight of victims of juvenile misconduct, including a woman who was robbed and beaten by four teenagers; when a judge ruled to expunge the records of all juveniles who appeared before Ciavarella during this period, some dangerous delinquents received a clean slate. Ecenbarger effectively exposes the gray areas of justice and makes a convincing case for why juveniles, even those who commit violent acts, deserve to receive fair trials. He also highlights the pioneering work of Philadelphia’s Juvenile Law Center, a nonprofit that played a significant role in ensuring that justice finally prevailed: Ciavarella was convicted on 12 counts of racketeering and money laundering, and he was sentenced to 28 years in prison.
Though occasionally dry, this sincere exposé of wrongdoing will appeal to readers interested in social justice, court reform and children’s rights.